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Gandhi, Sir Richard Attenborough’s Oscar winning 1982 epic, claims that there is no one way to show a man’s life. Much like Scorsese’s disclaimer to start “The Last Temptation”, Attenborough’s biopic makes no claim on definity, but it does make a sweeping portrait both rich and reverent. Sort of like the Saints in Super Bowl 44, the film begins in fits and starts after a searing opening scene, but when it hits its stride, it hits with 8 cylinders in a V6.

Ben Kingsley should have just retired after this film. Where else could he go? Dave? The Love Guru?

I’m not so familiar with Gandhi’s story, and expected to see the film portray an overly romantic view of him—and this is what the first act of the film gives us. Every line of dialogue from Gandhi was such an otherworldly nugget of wisdom (I assume cherry picked from his writings) that it lacked a distinctive personalization. Rang a little too pretentious. I would have kicked him off a train, too, if my neighbor was just blathering on about the truth being truth even for a minority of one. Goodness sakes, man, you’re in South Africa. Talk a little cricket to break the ice.

But like Drew Brees finding his passing game, the film settles into an energetic pace as Gandhi rallies the South African Indians to find equal status. The return to India is where the story swells, as Gandhi fleshes out his philosophy of non-violent resistance, of action for social change through pacifist means. Somewhat episodic, Attenborough’s film nevertheless builds upon itself, with both the British resistance to independence and the Indian propensity to fragmentation weakening in the light of Gandhi’s nation-building work with the Congress. The film, admirably, does not pull many punches when dealing with the controversies and harsh realities on the march to independence—touching both on British colonial repression and the violence not always avoided by the Indian resistance and non-cooperation. Indeed, Gandhi sometimes comes across as a petulant whiner when he doesn’t get his way (and somewhat arrogant—if the entire nation doesn’t stop rioting, I will starve myself to death). That Kingsley portrays this complex mix of motivation and reaction in Gandhi that allows the viewer to empathize and identify with him as a person, not as a figure, is just amazing acting.

If I were to extend my criticism beyond the initially overly reverent depiction of Gandhi, it would be that Attenborough uses Western characters to serve as gateways to the Mahatma for his audience. There’s almost always some white person there to help us get him, to serve as commentator or functionary, reducing the Indian-ness of the telling. Attenborough addresses this briefly with the dismissal of the Reverend, but soon after brings back white characters to be our lens for Gandhi. This has the effect, I believe, of minimizing the specificity of Gandhi’s story within India—this is clearly a tale for Western audiences. Murrow comments on his funeral, Bourke-White documents his final years with admiration, and the composite Walker enables his salt march to obtain global awareness.

Perhaps minor critiques of an otherwise very impressive and confident film. I wonder if we nominated this to the top 100. If not, we’ll have to catch it for the next go-round.

IMDB link:www.imdb.com/title/tt0083987/maindetails

Edited by Buckeye Jones
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Spelling note: It's actually Gandhi.

This was a huge, huge film when I was in Grades 7/8. It made the cover of Christianity Today, it featured the Christian athlete from Chariots of Fire as a priest or minister of some sort (it was this film that introduced me to the notion that some Christians actually have communion EVERY week and not just once a month like we did at my church), and of course this was the film that beat E.T. for Best Picture at the Oscars. (I didn't actually start WATCHING the Oscars until the following year, but this was the first year where I started reading up on all the predictions.)

Just looking at the poster brings back a flood of memories.

But I haven't watched the film itself (which I think I saw at least twice, back then) in almost 30 years, so I can't really comment much on the film itself at the moment.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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well, it should be Ghandi. Daggone non-westerners.

I also noticed I'm only 5 posts away from making my Top100 votes have more weight. Ha ha ha.

Keep going, dude. You can do it. I just want to note that any post that successfully compares Gandhi to Drew Brees is more than okay with me. Except Drew Brees could kick Gandhi's butt. Then Gandhi would turn the other cheek, and Drew would kick the other cheek. Who dat?

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Buckeye Jones wrote:

: well, it should be Ghandi. Daggone non-westerners.

I look forward to the day someone makes a movie called Gaddafi, or Qadafi, or Gadhafi, or Gathafi, or Khaddafi, or... Oh, what fun the spell-checkers will have!

: I also noticed I'm only 5 posts away from making my Top100 votes have more weight. Ha ha ha.

Oooooh, extra digits! extra digits!

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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This film has a particular charm for me, since I grew up watching it. I agree with most of the comments above (the part about it being almost exclusively mediated by Westerners hadn't occurred to me--good point). Kingsley owns the role--so much so that when I listened to the recordings of the actual Gandhi found on the DVD, I was shocked to find that he actually had a much stronger accent than in the film itself. No reason to be shocked, mind you--it's just that Kingsley had become so identified in my mind with the character.

Last time I watched it, it occurred to me that in some ways Gandhi takes its cues from Lawrence of Arabia. The comment about no-one's life being fully tell-able certainly echoes the run of diverse views found at the start of Lawrence. And even besides the fact that both movies start with the death and funeral of the main character, they both follow a similar narrative line and even have the protagonist face the breaking-apart of his dreams for the society.

Now, obviously, each story is based on actual events, and Gandhi and Lawrence are very different characters. But I wonder if Attenborough wasn't trying to draw some sort of a parallel anyway--perhaps contrasting the classic form of the historical epic with what might be considered an epic of pacifism.

Edited by NBooth
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Buckeye Jones wrote:

: He could've just been rubbing Lean's nose in it, since he both got to do a Gandhi biopic and a far superior Westerners in India story.

You mean A Passage to India? Lean's film didn't come out until two years later, and according to the IMDb it didn't begin shooting until November 1983 ... a good eight months or so after Gandhi had already won all its Oscars.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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