19 November 2010
This film feels like it's purely about the charisma of staring into the abyss, the magnetism of a downward spiral. Specifically, this film charts a varied and colorful spectrum of alcoholism through a single man so far gone that he -- to paraphrase his own summation -- must drink the right amount to strike a balance between the shakes and oblivion. The way his loved ones, his estranged/returned wife and his half-brother, tolerate his behavior speaks of a different era and philosophy, but it also speaks of a hard-earned understanding, painful though it might be, of what is left of Geoffrey Firmin and how this man survives. His emotional and psychic states are just as stormy and delicately poised as his physical, and the question in Under The Volcano is never "Will he live or die?" but "How long will he last, and what specific indignity will be his undoing?" After all, it's the Day of the Dead, and Geoffrey has been drinking himself to death for a long time now. Now's as good a time as any to let go.
Supposedly the novel -- apparently called one of the best novels of the 20th century, though to be honest I scarcely know of it outside the context of this film -- is full of colorful descriptions of drink-induced hallucinations and surreality, but the film is decidedly literal, grounded, and lacking in flights of fancy. I read a review somewhere that suggested Huston left all the hallucinations inside Geoffrey's head, and allowed Albert Finney to portray them as such. I don't know about all that, but the quality and quantity of madness behind those dark shades and half-confounded fish-face lips is legion. Under the Volcano threatens to collapse under its own weight, but at the same time it is amazing to watch, to take in, to let all that bleak energy wash over you.