"Make the best of what we offer you, and you will suffer less than you deserve."
- Camp Commandant.
Henri "Papillon" Charriere (Steve McQueen) is given a life sentence in a Penal colony in French Guyana - for a murder he did not commit. On the boat journey to the prison island, Papillon meets and befriends Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman), a fellow convict. The prison is horrible and Papillon wastes no time in planning his escape. His first attempt fails and ends with him spending two years in solitary. After serving his time alone, he enlists the help of Dega and others in a second escape attempt. Will he be more successful the second time around?
|The inmates arrive at the prison.|
The depiction of prison life in the penal colony is grim. McQueen's portrayal of Papillon during his time in solitary confinement was shocking and believable. Dega had been sending Papillon coconuts whilst he was in solitary and once the guards found out, they try to find the source of Papillon's gifts. Not giving up the name of his friend, Papillon is forced to serve six months of his solitary in darkness and on half rations. This clearly has an effect on his health, forcing him to eat bugs and making him very weak. He is visually striking, looking convincingly ill.
|Papillon in solitary.|
There are a couple of dream sequences which I thought were very good. In the first, Papillon is walking across a desert and is confronted by a judge and his jury:
The Judge proclaims: "You know the charge."
Papillon replies: "I'm innocent. I didn't kill that pimp. You couldn't get anything on me and you framed me."
Judge: "That is quite true. But your real crime has nothing to do with a pimp's death."
Papillon: "Well then, what is it?"
Judge: "Yours is the most terrible crime a human being can commit. I accuse you of a wasted life!"
Judge: "The penalty for that is death."
The final quote fades to Papillon awake in his cell, staring blankly. This technique was well executed in order for the audience to get an insight into the mind of the prisoner. Not only having inner fears about his life sentence but about his life in general. A wasted life. This only acts as a catalyst for his desires to escape the wretched prison.
|The desert trial.|
'Papillon' is a tough and hard hitting prison escape film. McQueen and Hoffman deliver convincing and enthralling performances and the brutality of prison life is plain to see. The desire for freedom is the main motif throughout, although friendship and teamwork are also important. If you only take one thing from the film, make sure you make the most of what you have got - and don't get accused of having a wasted life.
Up Next #245: