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October 23, 2003


Russell Arben Fox


"The Quiet American," the film, was okay. Nice acting, nice photography. But I think it failed as drama for a much simpler reason than your admittedly on-target comments about allegory. Basically, Philip Noyce has no guilt. But Graham Greene had tons of it, and that lent a desperate tension to all his works, whether great or middling. Greene was acutely aware of the huge elephantine sin sitting in the room when his protagonists debate the fate of Thomas Fowler's Vietnamese mistress. Does she have anything to say for herself? Does she have dignity? Does she have rights? No! She's poor and backward and utterly dependent upon what various Westerners insist should become of her. Which is despicable, of course. Which is why Graham Greene's original vision of Vietnam, interestingly but ultimately poorly captured by Philip Noyce on screen, has great power. As much as he loathed Americans (and he did), Greene loathed his own people in equal measure, though in different ways. In Graham Greene's The Quiet American, everyone is a hopeless bastard; no one is clean. Whereas in the movie, Fowler's only real sin is that it takes him so long to "wake up" and "take sides." Note that in the end of film, Fowler tells his mistress, "I just wanted to tell someone I was sorry." Whereas in the book, Fowler concludes, "How I wish there was someone I could apologize to." In the former case, a man apologizes for the troublesome nature of his (otherwise justified) actions. Whereas in the latter, a man acknowledges that there is no one he can justify his (selfishly sinful, even if correct!) actions to.


I too believe the book is better than the movie. The movie was less subtle in portraying Alden Pyle's guilt & Fowler's "heroism": the scenes where Brendan Fraser spouts fluent Vietnamese & collaborates with that general are shocking & conspiratorial indeed, but they didn't happen in the book. In the book it's not even all that clear that Pyle knew what he was doing with planning the bombing, not to mention whether what he was doing was wrong or not.

How much of a hero is Fowler anyway? Because he "took sides"? I'm just not sure that his move against Pyle's interference was all that courageous. We should bear in mind that he did have a strong personal motive for doing so.

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