Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Wages of Fear

"The Wages of Fear " (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1952) Some movies are so good they defy time, place and stay universally fresh, seemingly like they were made yesterday. Clouzot's "The Wages of Fear" is that kind of movie, and I would call it the best film 0f 2007 if it was released today instead of 1952. It tells the story of four vagrants scratching out a living in a South American village existing in the shadow (and under the thumb) of an American oil company. One of the distant oil rigs goes up in flames, and these four are hired to drive two trucks of nitro-glycerin over unforgiving roads to the inferno to snuff it out. Why take on this task? $2,000 per man--enough money to fly out and make a new life. Why these four? They're not union workers, and should they die--the odds are fifty/fifty, hence the two trucks--they have no families who might sue or require compensation.

It's a neat little trap, and that doesn't cover the obstacles that Nature (and uncaring road-workers!) have along the way. All these desperate times call for desperate measures and the efforts taken can be undone in the blink of an eye, or a flash of fire. For the four, the journey strips them down to their real selves, all pretense and masks disappear in the face of impossible challenges that must be overcome, and the looming threat of death riding behind them. The wages of fear may be death, but "The Wages of Fear' is a bleak metaphor for life itself.

All of this is played out over a blasted landscape, the results of the presence of Big Oil, and the journey feels like going back through time as well as space, through the spare white jail-bars of a denuded forest, back to the primordial ooze and finally ending up in Hell. By the end one can't help wonder if the fate of Nature and the nature of Fate are intertwined. Except for one fairly amateurish performance this is a near-perfect movie.

No comments: