The Constant Gardner: more propaganda

Posted: Sep 02, 2005 12:01 AM

If this summer’s movie season has seemed a bit dull after the parade of liberal propaganda we enjoyed in 2004, not to worry. Hollywood is gearing up to release a slew of fall films specializing in half-truths and no-truths tailor-made to have audiences (or at least critics) wringing their hands in Anglo guilt till Oscar comes home to roost.

First up: The Constant Gardener, a piece of agitprop so thinly disguised as a love story only the most pseudo of intellectuals could take it seriously. The plot revolves around Justin, a trembly, teary British diplomat who falls in love with the much-younger anti-war demonstrator Tessa after she disrupts a speech he’s giving in defense of British involvement in Iraq. So charming is her tirade, Justin can’t help but marry her and carry her off to Africa with him. But instead of settling into marriage and motherhood, Tessa continues to make her husband’s life difficult by insulting dignitaries and prying into conspiracies wherein big pharmaceutical conglomerates push lethal drugs on hapless African test subjects. Naturally, the drug companies, with the British government’s blessing, have no choice but to hire contract killers to take Tessa out (this is not a spoiler—the film moves backwards from Tessa’s death). As Justin sifts through the clues Tessa left behind, he realizes he’s been a company dupe and vows to see her work through to its completion. But he can’t do it alone, and once those homicidal pill pushers start gunning for him, the only people Justin can turn to for help are workers for the U.N. and Amnesty International.

The Constant Gardener’s moralizing is so heavy-handed it negates its own stunning cinematography and a truly inspired performance by Rachel Weisz. If a religious film had characters uttering lines as unbearably didactic as they do here, it would be rightly excoriated. As it is, since it’s evangelizing the masses in liberalism, the film has critics from Variety, The New York Times and hundreds of other left-leaning publications falling over themselves to throw roses at its feet.

Director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) makes certain his characters swing at every blame-America-first straw dog like they expect candy to come pouring out. The film opens with Weisz demanding to know why Britain thwarted the peaceful progress of the U.N. in Iraq. In the same harangue, she calls Iraq “Vietnam the Sequel” and accuses Tony Blair of going along with the Bush administration just so he can have a photo-ops on the White House lawn. Naturally, to this, Justin can only stammer out a meek defense that he’s merely there to relay the words of a higher ranking diplomat, and, after the session ends, tells Tessa one-on-one, “You’re quite right, you know.” Later, Justin opines that big pharmaceuticals are the real “axis of evil.”

Sound a bit radical? Not nearly as radical as some of Meirelles own statements, such as when he told a University of Texas campus paper about filming in Kenya, “It was a great experience. Like an al-Qaeda training camp.” Lest that statement merely seem like an ill-chosen analogy, Meirelles later made the same positive comparison of his crew’s operational base to al-Qaeda in an interview with the Seattle Times.

But even more ridiculous than Meirelles and the plot holes in his allegory (like why Tessa never thinks to send her incriminating evidence to The New York Times, CBS or some other news organization that has naughty dreams over such things) are the number of critics across the country asserting that this indictment of Merck, Pfizer, and the rest is based in fact. From Roger Ebert, to The Hollywood Reporter, to Rolling Stone, people who are at least partially connected to the world of journalism and should know better are asserting that the film raises consciousness for a problem that doesn’t really exist. While The Constant Gardener focuses on the evil of drug companies testing for tuberculosis and AIDS in countries where large portions of the population are infected with these diseases, in reality, progressive organizations have complained because drug companies didn’t test new drugs in these nations.

In September 2003, The Guardian published reports protesting the unfair treatment of African test subjects who are forced to wait until a drug is approved by their government before they can continue taking it. In the U.S., the article claimed, “patients in clinical trials continue to get successful new drugs on a compassionate basis after the study has ended, and before the granting of a licence.” The same story complained that some African subjects receive placebos instead of the trial drug after non-human tests show the drug to be effective. So which is it? Are pharmaceutical companies evil for giving Third-World patients developmental drugs or for withholding them?

Perhaps if The Constant Gardener is politically successful, anti-capitalist activists will drive pharmaceutical aid away from Africa the same way environmental activists drove away the use of pesticides. Then Africa will have neither pharmaceuticals nor DDT to prevent its citizens from dying en masse of malaria.

The other offensive theme at the root of this story is that Africa’s problems are our fault because, well, it’s not clear why it’s our fault, but certainly the earnestness of the leading lovers makes it plain that it is. If only more good-looking white people would crusade against corporations that have the audacity to make money then there wouldn’t be starving, sick people in the world.

Of course, if any Western nations actually did do anything to overturn the dictatorships responsible for Africa’s misery, liberals would yell, “Imperialism!” Instead, these same “humanitarians” will continue to support a U.N. that allows tyrants to block aid and steal from their people, enables relief workers to extort sex from children as young as four, and turns its back as hundreds of thousands of innocent Rwandans are slaughtered. But, hey, at least they feel bad for those Africans while watching The Constant Gardener. I guess, much like the wealthy actors and filmmakers responsible for this movie, they can pat themselves on the back for that.