Harder They Come, The (1973)

“The oppressors are trying to keep me down, trying to drive me underground.”

The Harder They Come

Synopsis:
Ivan Martin (Jimmy Cliff) moves from rural Jamaica to Kingston to record an album, but ends up trading ganja instead to survive. When he refuses to give money to a middleman, a lethal run-in with a cop leads him underground — but Cliff’s music is a hit, and he becomes a folk hero.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
This “hard-hitting, crudely made, angry left-wing” cult film about survival on the harsh streets of Kingston was the first movie made in Jamaica by Jamaicans, and shows a side of the island “paradise” that travel agencies try hard to conceal. Indeed, as Peary notes, the film realistically depicts Jamaica’s countryside as “barren and infertile” while “Kingston, the tourist center, is overcrowded, violent, seamy, and poverty-stricken.” Although the film is undeniably downbeat, the reggae soundtrack is truly amazing, and the folk hero story is compelling. When listening to Cliff sing about “universal love, peace, the worth of the individual, and an end to exploitation, neo-colonialism, imperialism, and authoritarinism,” one realizes why reggae is such a powerful force for change.

P.S. Watch this film with the subtitles on, otherwise you’ll have a hard time understanding anything the characters say in their Rastafarian patois.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An awesome reggae soundtrack by Jimmy Cliff
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  • The first “indigenous” Jamaican film
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Must See?
Yes. This cult classic holds a special place in Jamaican film history.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Harder They Come, The (1973)”

  1. A tentative once-must, for its place in cultural history.

    I saw this film once before on its release – when it became something of a hit as a midnight cult film because of its connection to the reggae wave that had a level of popularity at the time.

    Time has passed – and so has the popularity of reggae music. Many may now see this film in a different light. I certainly do.

    In the last few minutes of the film, we come to realize that the very unlikable protagonist is little more than someone who has been very influenced by the idea that it’s ‘cool’ to be a fierce and violent outlaw against ‘the establishment’. Given that the ‘establishment’ he lives in is a depressed environment economically (and it’s colored with such things as faux-Christian ministers and unethical record producers), it’s understandable that the outlaw gives himself over to a life of infamy. But it does make the film a long, slow, unsympathetic watch.

    The leading character wants to be famous as a songwriter – but even though he’s ambitious, he only records one song. It becomes a hit but the song is a reflection of the goals of an opportunist. Interest in the character as an ‘artist’ remains minimal. The film soundtrack itself is somewhat repetitive.

    ‘THTC’ is a bit longer than it needs to be. The storytelling is a bit choppy and confusing at times (not so much because of the language; even with some of the accents, 90-95% of the film is clearly understandable without subtitles).

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