Classics — Gandhi (1982)

Posted: July 24, 2010 in Alex Miller, Film, Reviews
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[Reviewed by: Alex Miller]

"I am a Muslim and a Hindu and a Christian and a Jew and so are all of you."

This classic essentially sweeped every possible recognition when it came out, including 8 Academy Awards and 5 British Academy Awards. It is by any definition a true “classic”. Because of it’s age, however, it seems to have become lost in the mix. Sure most of today’s 20-somethings have heard of it and older generations may have a vague recollection that they “saw it a long time ago”. But that’s not how it should be. Classic film should not be overlooked simply just to see “the latest thing”. I’m not saying you should abandon all trips to the movie theater in exchange for watching every classic you may have missed. But more often than not, the other extreme is taken, and many are not exposed to any classic films at all, which are of course the precursors to what’s playing at the local Cineplex. So let’s put the “Hot Tub Time Machines” and the “Avatars” of the world aside for a moment and take a look back at a film that really went above and beyond your everyday pure-entertainment movie.

I will always remember “Gandhi” for three things. Its performances, its scale, and its history. I hate critics that so easily claim that some aspect of the film they saw 10 minutes ago “is the greatest of all time”. Well I might hate myself in a moment, because Ben Kingsley’s portrayel of Gandhi might just be “the greatest of all time”. While the film was in preproduction, many actors were in competition for the role. In the DVD bonus features, Ben Kingsley recalls the moment he won it. After hearing a tape of a speech the real Gandhi made, Kingsley tried to mimic it making his own recording of the same speech so he could compare. Director Richard Attenborough gave his tape a listen, essentially saying “Yes that is exactly the stuff you need to be studying, I want you to practice sounding just like that.” Kingsley, confused, basically replied “No you don’t understand. That tape isn’t of Gandhi…it’s of me.” In addition, it is said that during the filming, Kingsley was made up to look so much like Gandhi that locals occasionally mistook him for a ghost. If there are films out there that contain better performances, I haven’t seen them yet.

The scale of Gandhi is just so remarkable. They don’t make movies like this anymore. Never again will there be a film with 300,000 extras. Instead, we put the actor in front of a blue-screen, and using CGI, put in a large crowd behind them. Not in this movie. That huge mass of people is real. Ben Kingsley actually had to deliver his lines in front of that crowd. When I watched “Lord of the Rings” and saw that massive army attacking I thought “Wow, that looks expensive.” When I watched “Gandhi” I saw that huge crowd listening to him speak and I thought just simply “Wow.”

The history of the person is what makes this film have more depth than your average movie. I am no historian, but from my research I think I can safely say that this film is pretty damn accurate. Sure the character of the Priest, which I felt was a useless character to begin with, may have been totally fictional. But all of the main events, and indeed some of the actual words, are straight out of history. Getting kicked off a train for being a Hindu in first class, marching to the ocean to make salt in defiance of the British Empire, and his fastings for peace were all true events. Gandhi, the man, reminded me very much of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Indeed, it is probably the reverse that is true, but in any case, Gandhi fought injustice in a very uncommon way. In my opinion pure Pacifism as a philosophy is not only inpractical, it is downright idiotic. Gandhi and Dr. King were not Pacifists by any stretch of the imagination. They fought harder than anyone. They may not have fought with guns or bombs, but they didn’t just sit back and do nothing either. Gandhi refused to cooperate with laws he viewed as morally wrong. He organized large (but peaceful) protests and engaged in economic warfare by using strikes. While I don’t think this strategy would work for every situation, Gandhi, Dr. King, and others have shown it is a much preferrable solution in many instances. Gandhi’s fear that if they used violence, they would be labeled as “terrorists” making things worse, was extremely interesting in today’s context. In addition to fighting for his own rights as a Hindu man, he fought for the rights of others including women and Muslims.

So don’t cancel your plans to go to the movies this Friday and see Angelina Jolie’s next star vehicle. But make sure to add this one to your Netflix Que. Then this Sunday night, order a pizza, pop this DVD in, and remember what film USED to be like. Take my word for it, it was pretty damn good.

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