John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest: A Review by Nate Hill

  
John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest is the kind of exotic, intoxicating, wildly adventurous, unbelievable and unforgettable film that comes along once in a decade, if that. These days this sort of film would be gilded to the hilt with unnecessary Cgi, a burden which filmmakers just can’t seem to free themselves from in this age. Back in 1985, they had to use what they had, filling every frame with on-location authenticity, genuine realism which prompts a feeling of wonder and sense of mysticism from the viewer, which any computer generated effort just cannot compete with (I will concede that this year’s The Jungle Book came up aces, so there are a few cutting edge exceptions). This film is quite the undertaking for both cast and crew, and one can see from scene to scene the monumental effort and passion that went into bringing this story alive. It’s also partly based on true events, adding to the resonance. Powers Boothe plays technical engineer Bill Markham, who is living with wife (Meg Foster) and two small children in Brazil, while he designs plans for a great river dam which will allow further development. One day, on a picnic at the edge of the rainforest, his son Tommy disappears, after spotting an elusive tribe of Natives. Gone with no trace but an arrow lodged in a nearby tree, Bill launches a search for his son that spans a decade, returning year after year to probe the vast, untamed jungle in hopes of somehow finding Tommy. Tommy, now a young man and played by the director’s son Charley Boorman, has been adopted and raised by the kindly tribe, known as ‘The Invisible People’ for they way they remain unseen as they move about their home in the forests. Tommy is very much one of them, taken up their customs and traditions, with nothing but vague memories of Bill in his dreams, which he doesn’t believe to have actually happened. One day in the hostile territory of ‘The Fierce People’, Tommy and Bill are reunited, Tommy taking his wounded father to his home village. Bill is heartbroken that his son is essentially no longer his, conflicted by the situation. Tommy has just entered his life as a man, taking a gorgeous wife (Dira Paes) from his village and starting a future. Trouble brews as The Fierce People threaten Tommy’s village, and their women, prompting him to seek Bill’s help. It’s interesting to see how a tribe who have had little to no contact with the outside world react to it, calling it ‘the dead world’ and referring to the developers as the Termite People who cut down the grandfather trees. The environmental message is never preachy, always feeling like a vital and important truth that is organic and unforced, emerging through the characters and their interactions. The Natives possess an innate spirituality and connection to the intangible which we have forgotten as progress alters us, still rooted deeply in forces beyond our 21st century comprehension. Boothe is deeply affecting in one of his best roles, a desperate father through and through, while also filling out the broad shoes of the wilderness adventurer he has become over the years. He fills his performance with pathos, longing and is the emotional soul of the piece. Boorman is spry and takes up the aura of Tommy well, mastering the complex linguistics and mannerisms of the tribe admirably. One of my favourite aspects of the film is its exquisite and moving score, the main theme evoking wild romanticism, old world secrets and the unending beauty of nature so well that one feels goosebumps as if we’re really there in that setting. Pure cinematic magic, a timeless story told without flaw or hitch, and a breathtaking piece of film. 

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