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Reflections on John Boorman's "Hell in the Pacific" (1968)








Welcome to my brief notes on Lee Marvin and John Boorman's second collaboration.



Stuart Fernie




Set on a deserted island in the Pacific during WW2, Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune play stranded American and Japanese soldiers respectively.


In such a situation cultural and historical differences should count for nothing as both men have to fight nature to ensure survival. However, even here their cultural clash carries over as each tries to get the better of the other. Each regards the other with suspicion and fear, showing scant understanding (neither speaks the other's language) and consideration for one another as human beings, opting to maintain their ingrained enmity, seeking to prove superiority and refusing to share resources. Each also shows cunning, courage, determination and spirit.



Each man does, eventually, get the better of the other and both show a fundamental humanity as neither can bring himself to kill the other, though they do try to hold one another in check and control one another.


The Japanese soldier displays order and a need for precision, while the American is more relaxed and haphazard, but neither is obviously superior to the other.


The whole would seem to be a metaphor for warring nations and peoples seeking to gain control over one another, with arguments over food, water, territory and property, all the while failing to see the bigger picture. There is even a nod toward the age-old issue of enslavement and the question of responsibility for one another, with neither being happy to accept the situation, though each is wary of the other and wishes to exercise control over the other.



Finally, there appears to be a realisation that they are going nowhere. This is not verbalised, but there develops an underlying, if uneasy, trust between the two. This trust is doubted from time to time, and this doubt is based on previous "conditioning" rather than their experiences on the island.


Eventually, they find a common cause and fight nature together, helping and saving one another. By now their cultural differences have been forgotten as they focus on the here and now. After their escape across the sea, they come across land which could be under the command of either nation, and each is protective of the other.



However, once again surrounded by cultural memories and photographic reminders of "reality", they start picking at one another, only for both to be killed in a bombing raid on the island, showing the madness of war (and the human condition?).


Through these two soldiers, we are shown how people can live together if they focus on what they have in common, including common dangers and challenges, rather than concentrate on their differences.



Much has been made of the alternate endings for this film. I have only ever seen the destructive one, but apparently there is another version in which they argue and go their separate ways. I must say I find the former more satisfying as destruction is the implied ultimate result if we fail to get on together.



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Due to technical problems (and my inability to cope with them), new material will be posted on My Blog. Please check for regular updates. These include various articles, discussions of "Dunkirk", "Dances With Wolves", �The Prisoner� (1967 TV series), �Inherit the Wind� (1960 film), a little Flash Fiction and some of my memoirs as a teacher in a small Highland school for some 35 years.