Sunday, September 03, 2006

At Play in the Fields of the Lord

AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE LORD (Peter Matthiessen) - Two Stars
Long and tedious (it lasts a little over three hours, but seems much longer than that), the primary problem with this movie is that it never really seems to decide what it wants to be or where it wants to go. Is this a story about the struggle of missionaries to adjust to their lives in the Amazon? Is it about Catholic/Protestant rivalry? Is it about rediscovering one's roots? Is it about giving us a glimpse of native culture? Is it about the effort to drive the natives off their land? It tries to be about all of these, and the end result is that it doesn't do any of them particularly well. Had the movie chosen to focus on one or two of those storylines (and if it had been cut by at least an hour) it might have made a decent film. As it is, it's very disappointing.
The above is a quote from a user review at of the movie version of "At Play in the Fields of the Lord." Judging by the reviewer's quote, I can only assume the movie was meticulously faithful to the book.

The book isn't overly long (only 373 pages) but the first half of that is mind-numbingly tedious because it never commits itself in any one direction. The novel, much like the characters in it, wanders around aimlessly in the inescapable hell of the Amazon jungle. At Play... brings forth numerous interesting and thought-provoking story threads, but they all eventually fade away, unresolved, into the graveyard of forgotten memory. For example, by page 35 it is obvious that the two mercenary characters will be used to bomb a nearby Indian village. 300 pages and many story-months later, the (now abandoned) village is duly bombed, even though by this point that story thread has long since become inconsequential and does absolutely nothing to further the story along.

The IMDB reviewer really hit the nail on the head. At Play... never decides what direction it wants to go. The only constants in the novel are the harsh, implacable nature of the jungle and the author's steadfast, seemingly condescending approach towards faith in general. The devout are painted as foolish, stupid and naive, in increasingly bold strokes, and the act of having faith at all is made to seem like a pointless exercise. And maybe in the unforgiving jungles of the Amazon it is, but the attack on it in the pages of this book just turns into another droning, single-note melody that never develops.
"I'll bet you've asked yourself that very thing quite a few times. Let me ask you something else. Did you earn your faith, or were you stuffed with it, like a big turkey?"


Blogger kbrow said...

I read this book years ago, and found it to be grueling in the extreme. I read Matthiesen's book "The Snow Leopard" about the intersect of his Buddhism and scientific research, and found it to be just wonderful.

Glad you liked "Wicked" though. I did enjoy that book!

Sep 19, 2006, 11:57:00 PM  

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