Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The book and the film

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee was a hard book to read. Winner of the 1999 Booker Prize, it confronts deep differences in the human condition - male against female, black versus white - and the subtle but shifting struggles for power, in a sparsely peopled veld of post-Apartheid South Africa. It lays bare the violence and selfishness of most human transactions. Lucy's decision - in the face of what seems to be the defining human characteristics, control and callousness - might just barely be perceived as the defiance or acceptance of a willful idiot child, or the only act with a glimmer of redemption.

You should read the book first, and then see the movie with John Malkovich as Lucy's father, Professor Lurie.

Most films have the challenge of compressing the time and distances that can be spanned by even the slimmest volume in the two hours of its drama and dialogue. Disgrace the film doesn't try too hard to adhere to chronology. Instead, it succeeds in telling the story through its characters and their relationships: the jaded white male professor and his delight in the young, black and nubile; the daughter determined to shape a life in a garden on the veld; her black tenant; the nurturing animal welfare activist.

The interplay produces debate that is contentious and controversial. There is brutal beauty in the personalities, actions and decisions of these individuals that transcends the veld, that mirrors the world. This, says Coetzee, is what civilization is.

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