Feb 01st: “Year of Living Dangerously” (1982)
Celebrating 28 days of underrated 80s cinematic treasures.
This was a film that’s been a, difficult favourite of mine for many years. Difficult in that is so thought provoking, and yet , I haven not had one single conversation with anybody about it. It’s not a talker picture. It doesn’t have any specific moments to recount, nor are there lines of dialogue that are quotable. As this is an early 80s film, there’s a generation gap that also comes between it. Film students may stumble across this, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed by larger audiences. It’s compelling. It’s tough. But it’s worth it.
Guy Hamilton (played by Mel Gibson) is a journalist, and reporter sent on assignment to Jakarta, Indonesia. As he arrives, he has no idea what he’s stepping into. The reporter he was to replace has already left without leaving a handover portfolio: specifically, a list of contacts and knowledge of protocol. In Jakarta, it’s “who you know” that matters. Without his contacts, he is just another reporter, lost in a world that could easily turn against him.
It’s by luck that Billy Kwan — who works within the community of foreign correspondents — recognises Guy Hamilton’s plight, and soon enough offers to be his first hand guide. They quickly develop a bond — whether that is natural or forced is up to interpretation. Billy comes along at the right time. Just when Guy needs somebody to show him the way.
Guy has a strong reporter instinct with a reverence for getting everything he needs to fulfil the brief of “getting the story”. He appears unfazed by dangers, and acts like he’s just come off the set of a Mad Max* movie or something, which is why Billy is quick to rein him in.
*I know. It was a cheap shot.
With that bond in place between Billy and Guy, is it of no surprise to us that the green monster (not Gumby, the other one) within Billy emerges when Guy is eventually introduced to Jill Bryant, played by Sigourney Weaver. Not only is Jill brilliant and beautiful, but she’s also a rebel.
Rebellion is very much a key to the world they live in, and in this instance, with the political frailties that were present around them, to add their recklessness to the mix would only end badly.
Billy is protective, but also possessive. He wants Guy to fit in with his idea of what Guy means to him, as it has always been with everybody that Billy comes to know. He has a file on those he cares about. Those who he believes he moulded into better versions of themselves. In a way, Billy lives vicariously through the lives, and the loves, of those he gets close to.
This movie was a first for MGM, having taken over the funding after the South Australian Film Corporation pulled out. Along with the Australian Film Commission, this was the first film co-production between an Australia and a Hollywood studio. The film was well received by critics and at festivals, most notably Cannes and did relatively well at the Box Office.
Why would such a film be classed as underrated you might be asking? It’s the appeal and shelf life that concerns me here. In the years after home video release, this film seemed to fade from people’s minds. It is nothing more than a milestone in the careers of the two of the best heavy hitters of Hollywood: Sigourney Weaver and Mel Gibson. Their careers since The Year of Living Dangerously went off the charts, along with Gibson’s facial hair.
Director Peter Weir’s career started in my opinion with the astonishing documentary Whatever Happened to Green Valley? Weir reached international acclaim with Picnic at Hanging Rock. His filmography is filled with recognisable films that speak strongly about specific moments in time. Facing reality with Gallipoli in 1981, and later bending reality with the Truman Show in 1998. Other hits include Witness and Dead Poet’s Society, the latter being the very cornerstone of film references, remains at the forefront of his motion picture accomplishments.
The Year of Living Dangerously is an acquired taste, and can be easily dismissed without fully understanding what the film is really about. It’s not a love story, but more of a triangle. It’s not historical drama, as most audiences wouldn’t come loaded with pre-knowledge of political events that shook Indonesia to its core. It’s focus is very much on character study, and personal influence, and once you get past trying to figure it out, it becomes a place that is very hard to forget.
A lot of the credit for this film’s staying power comes from the score which features Vangelis “L’Enfant”. This film came out between Chariots of Fire, and Blade Runner, where Vangelis scores tower over with heavier association, and run the line through to popular culture.
Another reason why this film, although successful in the moment has become something of a forgotten classic was that it was released in December 1982, along with massive films such as Gandhi, Sophie’s Choice, The Dark Crystal, and Tootsie, all of which shone a light so bright, any other great movies would stand back and cover their eyes.
This movie really belongs to Linda Hunt, which would be an apt conclusion to this introduction, as her character is very much about being in control of the lives around her. She won the Oscar for best supporting actress, and deservedly so. If you ever need somebody to elevate your material, Linda Hunt is the one you call.
Written by: Stephen Radford