Year of Living Dangerously, The (1982)

“We’ll make a great team, old man: you for the words, me for the pictures. I can be your eyes.”

YOLD Poster

Synopsis:
On the brink of a Communist rebellion in Sukarno’s Indonesia, an Australian reporter named Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson) befriends an idealistic dwarf photographer (Linda Hunt) who helps him get interviews with key political players; but when Hamilton falls for a beautiful military attache (Sigourney Weaver) and betrays her confidence, Hunt’s trust in Hamilton is severely compromised.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “smart, provocative, eerie film” by Australian director Peter Weir is so “convincing” that “you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to 1964-65 in Jakarta, Indonesia, during the final year of the Sukarno regime”. Set in the midst of “paranoia, police action, political turbulence, … poverty in the extreme, and… decadent insensitive foreigners”, TYOLD is a rare political film about friendship — one which effectively explores “mistrust, ambition… and betrayal“, and manages to combine “frightening violent sequences, a great deal of suspense”, and romance, all in one satisfying package.

Gibson is ostensibly the lead protagonist in the film, given that it’s his growth of conscience as a reporter — and his erotic courtship with sexy, smart Weaver — which form the primary arc of the narrative. Yet it’s the Chinese-European dwarf photographer “Billy Kwan” (Hunt) who ultimately leaves the deepest impression. As Peary notes, Kwan is a truly “enlightened male”, someone whose socialist ideals allow him to transcend his own beleaguered stature in life (he’s cruelly teased by his ignorant colleagues) and instead work towards helping “spread sunshine” in whatever small ways he can. Essentially a collector of people, he keeps extensive files on his friends and associates in order to both understand them and help guide them — a pastime which sounds creepy (indeed, Hamilton accuses him of being an operative), but is clearly driven by Kwan’s deep desire to help the world, and his realization that, as a misunderstood, marginalized dwarf, he must enlist the help of others in order to achieve his goals. Hunt “deservedly won an Oscar” for her performance as Kwan, and she’s reason enough to check out this satisfying political drama.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan
    YOLD Hunt
  • Mel Gibson as Guy Hamilton
  • Sigourney Weaver as Jill Bryant (though her faux British accent is less than impressive)
  • Excellent recreation of turbulent Jakarta in the 1960s (actually shot in the Philippines)
  • A smart, powerful script (adapted from C.J. Koch’s novel)

Must See?
Yes. This Oscar-winning film remains powerful viewing, and should be enjoyed at least once by all film fanatics.

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One Response to “Year of Living Dangerously, The (1982)”

  1. A once-must – and in agreement with the assessment (including Peary’s unusually spot-on remarks).

    This is, indeed, a unique mix of politics and cultural inter-change. It explores the lives of careerists adrift who appear to thrive in atmospheres both foreign to them and hanging on uncertainty and risk. That’s a rather specific character strain, and this film shows the variety within that type.

    Director Weir leans towards a leisure tone but, if it does seem slow, the film is without scenes that are dull or unimportant. Weir is also very sensitive to the subtleties of the people in the foreign land he’s documenting.

    Of note as well is Maurice Jarre’s evocative score.

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