by Ted S. McGregor Jr. & r & & r & The Constant Gardener & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & ovies are starting to reflect reality again, and not just provide a couple hours of escape. If it seems we're reliving the politics of the 1970s, Hollywood has started to take the cue to release topical films that dramatize a troubled world. Just since summer, we've seen Good Night, and Good Luck, Syriana, North Country and The Constant Gardener.
Directed by the Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles (City of God), The Constant Gardener shows how the Third World can be victimized by the bottom-line desires of the multinational corporate world. Based on the 2000 novel by John Le Carr & eacute;, it's a love story, a thriller and an African travelogue all wrapped into one film. Young, impassioned Tessa (Rachel Weisz) meets stuffy diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), who is heading to Kenya for his latest tour of duty. After a whirlwind romance, they marry so she can join him there. In Kenya, Tessa stumbles onto a dirty little secret a powerful pharmaceutical company would rather keep quiet. She blows the whistle (she thinks) and pays the price. And that's just the first 10 minutes.
The rest is Justin's discovery of his wife's passion -- activism. His "constant gardening" is a metaphor for how most people busy themselves with the details of their lives as a way of blocking out the dark side of humanity. Justin is comfortable with his plants, but not with people. But in this film, activism is a virus that spreads, and the only treatment is to become engaged. Justin digs into Tessa's world, and he gets infected -- leaving his plants to face the truth. That virus runs its course in Justin, but like Tessa, he manages to pass it on, keeping hope for justice alive.
The film is remarkable for having been shot in Kenya, which is a world of extremes -- extreme poverty in a sprawling shantytown juxtaposed with Nairobi's skyscrapers, and lush upper class neighborhoods juxtaposed with harsh, barren landscapes some Kenyans subsist upon. Meirelles shows Kenya from the eyes of the poor, so the impacts of these corporate policies have faces. Although a fictional account, you can't help but feel at least a little complicit in the heaping of even more misfortune on the Third World. And maybe, Meirelles and le Carr & eacute; and perhaps even Hollywood seem to be hoping, the virus of activism will infect you, too.