Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Mosquito Coast

The Mosquito Coast posterIn The Mosquito Coast (1986), Allie Fox (Harrison Ford) is a devoted husband, father of four, and a genius inventor. Seeing as he dropped out of Harvard to get a ‘real education’, he learns from the world around him, but is also that world’s harshest critic. The fundamental victim of his disparagement is his own country, the United States of America, against which he ignites an opinion of pure cynicism for its stupidity and greed. Allie’s latest invention to date is Fat Boy: a miraculous body of machinery which needs only fire to create ice. When he shares this cooling-system discovery with his neighbour, he is sadly disappointed when it is considered too unbelievable for practical use. Allie then spies the migrant workers attending to his neighbour’s fields and dreams up a second bright idea: to take his wife (Hellen Mirren) and his four children, including Charlie (River Phoenix), through whom the story is narrated, to the paradise of Central America; a geo-thermal hotspot just waiting for Fat Boy to bring civilization in the form of ice. Consequently, the Foxes leave everything in Massachusetts behind and head to the Mosquito Coast, or La Mosquitia, in Honduras. While journeying down by ship, the family is rubbed the wrong way by an evangelistic missionary, Reverend Spellgood (Andre Gregory), who is also on his way to the jungle with his family to bring his own idea of salvation to the locals. When they dock on the Mosquito Coast, Allie promptly buys a plot of cheap land deep in the jungle, home to the village of Geronimo, and ushers his family off into the wilderness. While even the locals don’t understand why he would want to go to a desolate and deserted village like Geronimo, Allie becomes overjoyed at the thought of starting a civilization from scratch. The labour is difficult to build a village to the family’s liking, but soon enough there is laughter reverberating through the jungle and a smile on everyone’s face as they build a new life from the ground up.

Reverend Spellgood arrives unannounced to Geronimo one day and positions himself as the religious antagonist to Allie’s atheistic ways of science and invention. After the visit, Allie devotes himself to building a monolithic version of Fat Boy to facilitate his own miracle: ice. Fat Boy proves worthy and provides ice, cold water, and air conditioning to the community. But Allie grows restless as his miracle is taken for granted and ventures into the jungle in search of a famed indigenous village, untouched by the white man, to bring upon them the wonder of ice. They stumble upon the village a few arduous days into the trip, but by then Allie’s hopes are dashed as the last of the ice has melted. Charlie, also on the venture, suddenly spies white men in the village and Allie, mistaking them for captives, tells the men to follow their trail back to Geronimo. This mistake proves critical when the men arrive in Geronimo with guns and a yearning to stay in the paradise haven. As the majority of the village had been enticed away by the Reverend in Allie’s absence and the option to overtake the men is crushed, Allie immediately reacts with the lie that the entire village is infested with termites and everything must be burned. After this plan fails to relieve the family of the armed men, Allie coaxes them into the bowels of Fat Boy and then attempts to freeze them alive. The idea backfires when the men begin shooting in Fat Boy at the pipes filled with ammonium hydroxide and as a result, send themselves, along with the rest of the village, up in flames. The aftermath is complete devastation and contamination, much like a scene of nuclear war. All their toil seems for naught as the family sets out down the river with their local friend, Mr. Haddy. When they finally reach the ocean, mother and kids are overjoyed at the thought of returning home or to Mr. Haddy’s house down the coast, but Allie refuses as he insists that they live the simple life. He even lies to his children by saying that America doesn’t exist anymore on account of its being blown up. Mrs. Fox is appalled at his impudence, but continues to stand by her husband’s decisions.

The family again sets out to build shelter, but when a storm hits and floods their small plot of beach, the Foxes barely escape. As they head upriver, the family begins to be torn apart due to Allie’s paranoia that everyone is against him; when suddenly they come upon a church on the bank of the river. They hear Reverend Spellgood’s voice and discover that it is coming from a TV inside the church, as Spellgood is absent on a visit to his home in America, and the locals of Geronimo watch quietly from the pews. Allie does nothing as his family pensively returns to its boat, but is visibly infuriated that this man is brainwashing the good people who used to inhabit his perfect community. That night, after the return of the Spellgoods, Charlie and his brother Jerry sneak over to the house to talk to Mr. Spellgood’s daughter who informs them that America is still standing and then gives them the keys to the family’s jeep. The boys race back to the boat and plead with their mother that they escape the insanity which is their father. Mrs. Fox refuses up until the church suddenly bursts into flames and Allie appears holding a gas can, attempting to cast the boat off. When Mrs. Fox questions Allie he pushes her down, losing the one thread of dignity left to him. The family prepares to leave their disheveled father when Rev. Spellgood, also compromising his morals in the face of his nemesis, shoots Allie with a rifle from the bushes. Seeing their father slowly dying, the family once again rushes to his aid in the boat and pushes off again upstream. The film ends with the family forlorn and distressed as Allie mutters some of his last words, stating that all he wanted were right angles and straight lines, but nature is crooked.

Before the trip to the Mosquito Coast, Allie sees America as a third world country on account of its rampant consumerism and extravagant nature. He claims that living the simple life will give the kids a true education, one of survival and the rebuilding of civilization; but the simple life is actually what drives Allie to dementia. Each civilization which he constructs is pursued by downfall. He feels that he is to be the saviour to the locals and becomes aggitated when he realizes that a Christian missionary has already beat him to the cause. But what gives these men such a desire to manifest their vision upon an indifferent society? Perhaps it is simply the fact that they are able to create it, in such locations as the Mosquito Coast, with no obstacles in their way except for the faculty of the opposing architect. Such isolated coastal villages are displayed in the film as blank canvases for inspired Americans to arrive at with the best intentions, and leave in their wake a flurry of destruction and contamination which will drive them mad.

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