Recently I reviewed a DVD version of Zorba The Greek because I was curious to see why I remember the movie as a failure when so many critics hailed it for its "lusty life-affirming portrayal" of a free spirit. My original opinion was reinforced by reviewing the film.
Indeed, more than before, I can't understand the approval this film receives.
The movie begins with the arrival of the English author by boat. Disembarking in a rain storm, he is shown to be concerned about one piece of luggage, a large basket labeled BOOKS. This is the first sign we have of the deficient personality of Basil. He loves books.
Learning that the weather is delaying his transportation to the lignite mine he inherited and which is the purpose of his visit to Greece, Basil goes into a waiting room to spend the time reading. After a while, he has the feeling of being watched and lifts his face from the book to look around. He sees the grizzled visage of Zorba staring at him through the window.
(at this moment in the film there is complete silence, the voices of the people and the sounds of the storm recede. I found this odd because it is a common cinematic device to announce the presence of Satan. I don't know if that was the intention here but it was the first thing that came to my mind.)
Zorba enters and introduces himself to Basil. During their conversation, Zorba picks up a piece of soft luggage and lays it on his lap. Basil asks if it contains his clothing. In a gentle mock-scold tone, Zorba says "You ask such sensible questions." Asking sensible questions is apparently another sign of the needed reform of Basil's personality.
Quoting from the DVD synopsis: "As the two men, utter opposites, become partners, Basil becomes a kind of voyeur to Zorba's wildly playful antics and passionate attempts to make those around him happier. Despite his philandering nature, Zorba proves himself a champion to women, marrying one who's smitten with him and trying, however hopelessly, to rescue a young widow punished by the vindictive men whose many advances she has refused." Oh, would that it were so!
Much has been made of Zorba's attempts to provoke the Englishman to court the young widow whereas no mention is made of the Englishman's successful effort to force Zorba to marry the old French hotel owner. The marriage of course is faked to fool the widow who is ill and dying. This comes after the 'champion of women', having bedded her, now refers to her with curse words and would abandon her but for Basil.
As for saving the young widow, Zorba takes a knife from one man who is about to kill her, then he drops the knife on the ground and turns to leave the crowd without the woman. Before he has walked ten feet, another knife appears and the young widow's throat is slashed. So much for his attempted rescue. He shrugs his shoulders and walks off.
The townspeople in this movie are mean-spirited, evil, parochial, narrow-minded, bigoted and superstitious. The landscape is hardscrabble and ugly and resembles George Romero's film Night of The Living Dead. I am sure the previous two statements work symbiotically to produce these effects in the people and the land. But there is nothing 'life-affirming' about them!
I have not read the book from which this movie was made. Someone I know who has read the book tells me that the intellecual character is Greek, not English. That is not a minor difference.
Many reviews cite Zorba's zest for life. I see Zorba's behavior as childlike. One cannot live one;s entire adult life 'in the moment'. We all have a past and a future. Without an understanding of that knowledge, we, as individuals, are doomed to a life of defeat and pain.
This "live in the moment philosphy" is not without many adherents. For some it isa way of life. I have recorded a statement from an African-American musician given during an interview on C-Span. It reads: "It be a cultural thang. We got more possession of our bodies than you white folks. You got too much mind control."
I have met people like Zorba in my life. I saw little about them to appreciate and I did not consider their actions attractive. I saw narcissism, the emotional overflowing of their actions, their grinning selfish taking and pushing and entering and pleading, the mindless cruelty, the missing of all subtlety and nuance, the lack of empathy for those around them who are caught in their death-dealing clutch of life-affirming loo-oo-o-ve.
I'm sorry, but Zorba is a creep.
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