THE EMERALD FOREST. (1985) DIRECTED AND CO-PRODUCED BY JOHN BOORMAN. WRITTEN BY ROSPO PALLENBERG.
STARRING CHARLEY BOORMAN, POWERS BOOTHE, MEG FOSTER AND DIRA PAES.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
I love this film. Charley Boorman, son of director John Boorman who made DELIVERANCE, is phenomenally good as Tommy/Tomme, the white boy who is kidnapped by a native tribe of the Brazilian Rainforest and brought up by them as a member of their tribe, the Invisible People.
Why was little Tommy in Brazil in the first place? Well, because his dad Bill Markham, played by the sexy and gorgeous Powers Boothe, is the engineer building a massive dam there that involves the gradual erosion of the Rainforest; the gradual erosion, by extension, of the homes of the one or two indigenous tribes that still live there.
The edge of the world used to be so far away when we were young, comments the chief of the Invisible People at one point. But so-called ‘progress’ brings the ‘edge of the world’ closer to them year by year. Eventually, even the land on which their homes are built will have been eroded. What then? It’s a grim prospect indeed.
Ten years pass and the dam is nearing completion. Tommy’s dad never gives up hope of finding his son. It finally happens at a crucial moment. Bill is at a waterfall, fleeing from the Fierce people who, you can tell from their name, are a lot less pleasant than the nice, quiet self-effacing Invisible People who stole Tommy.
Tomme (pronounced Tommay), now seventeen and a man, is at the same waterfall, searching for sacred stones to bring to his marriage to the lovely Kachiri. Tomme’s and Bill’s eyes meet through the falling water and they know each other immediately, mouthing ‘Dadde?’ and ‘Tommy?’ to each other across the river. It’s a breath-taking moment.
Tomme saves Daddee (pronounced Dadday) from the savage, cannabilistic Fierce People, then Dadde recovers from his injuries at the home of the Invisible People. Tomme marries Kachiri after an elaborate ceremony which involves his bonking her on the head with a huge stick and carrying her unconscious to their new home, where the marriage is consummated in the usual way. I wonder what happens if the bride gets a concussion from the pre-marital bonk on the noggin with a stick the size of a bleedin’ bedpost. Nookie interruptus, perhaps…? Girlfriend in a coma, even…?
The rascally rogue Chief Wanadi, leader of the Invisible People, invites Dadde to stay with them forever, smoking the pipe of oblivion and availing himself of the delicious nudie totty. Cor blimey! What a way to live, eh? But Dadde has a wife and daughter to get back to and a dam to build. He won’t be the cause of his wife suffering any more anguish. Reluctantly, he takes his leave of his son.
Very soon after this, however, the terrifying Fierce People’s greed for money and guns sees the near-destruction of the Invisible People. Charley begs for Daddee’s help to save the women of his tribe, including his beloved bride, Kachiri, who are all in mortal peril. They’ve been abducted and are being forced to work as prostitutes in a filthy brothel run by white men in conjunction with the Fierce People.
Dadde plays a blinder, but then it turns out that there’s something else he can do for Tomme and his tribe that might guarantee their future safety, if not outright survival. Has Dadde got it in him? Has Dadde got the balls?
Well, Dadde Bill is very well put together, which we know from the scenes in which he appears in a loincloth, so I reckon he’s got the balls all right. But more than balls; he’s got the heart, a big huge warm heart full of love for his beautiful son, who has clearly grown up with the loyalty and devotion to family his father managed to instill in him in his early years. ‘Give me the boy till he is seven,’ say the religious order, the Jesuits (I think?), ‘and I will show you the man.’
Quick round-up, now. All the Invisible People are in the nip; no willies, though, just boobies and nudie posteriors. Powers Boothe is a truly handsome and masculine man. I would have liked to know him. And finally, something really random now. Would you like to hear something MAD I learned this year about cannibalism? Not that cannibalism isn’t completely bonkers in and of itself, of course! But get this! Gather round now, children…
Back in the 1950s, doctors and scientists became aware that a tribe in Papua New Guinea known as the Fore (pronounced Four-Ay) weren’t having a lot of luck with their women and children, vast numbers of whom were dying of a horrible disease they’d christened ‘kuru,’ which means trembling.
The symptoms were this all-over-body trembling and an increasing inability to manage their own limbs, movements and emotions. Kuru is often called ‘the laughing disease’ because of the bouts of uncontrollable emotion evinced by the sufferers. Isn’t that horrible and creepy? One of the most famous books on the subject is called ‘LAUGHING TO DEATH’ for this exact reason.
Anyhow, how come the women and children were the only sufferers, and not the men? Wait till you hear this. The Fore tribe were cannibals, as you might have guessed. They eat their dead so as to always keep a bit of the deceased about them, but the guys ate the ‘good’ fleshy meat bits and this left the women and children to chow down on… guess what? The brains…
Don’t, I beg of you, ever knowingly eat the brains of another human being, cooked or uncooked. They may contain bad, abnormally folded proteins called Prions which can transfer to the eater and cause big spongy holes to appear in their own brain. Big spongy holes in your brain is A TERRIBLE THING TO HAPPEN. A fatal degenerative brain disorder is the only outcome.
The Fore people were eventually persuaded to give up eating their dead in the 1960s, but, because of kuru’s long incubation period, their people still died of the disease as late as 2009/2010. Right into the modern age. What a grim thought. Want to hear grimmer?
If sheep are fed the brains of their own kind in their feed, as a way of skimping on the food bills, the poor little critters can develop the form of kuru known as ‘scrapie.’ It’s a Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy akin to kuru and caused by bad prions. The poor baa-baas itch so badly with the disease that they end up ‘scraping’ their fleeces off by rubbing them off any surface they think might help them to alleviate their itching.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE or Mad Cow Disease, is another dreadful Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy or TSE caused by bad prions or proteins. Cattle become infected after being fed grub that contained the remains of other cattle who developed the disease spontaneously, or of scrapie-infected sheep.
The human form of BSE is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. If you catch this fatal degenerative brain disorder from infected meat, here’s what can happen to you: dementia, involuntary movements, blindness, weakness, coma, death.
It’s a very good argument for going vegetarian, isn’t it? Alzheimer’s Disease is another one of those diseases associated with the build-up of bad proteins in and around the brain. The brain with Alzheimer’s doesn’t look dissimilar to the brain with kuru. In both cases, pockets of nerve cells will have been decimated to leave holes in the brain.
I’m sorry for bringing up all this depressing, horrible medical stuff over the festive season, but, A, I’ve been down a lot of weird Internet rabbit holes this year, and, B, I remember myself and a boyfriend laughing ourselves stupid in the late ‘90s or early 2000s about the very notion of Mad Cow Disease.
We literally didn’t have a clue about the hideousness and pain and suffering associated with this disease and we thought the idea of a Mad Cow was hilarious. Now I know different. (I don’t know what happened to him.)
To sum up, THE EMERALD FOREST; good. Cannibalism; bad. Very, very bad.
Happy New Year, y’all…