Being Human

(Bill Forsyth, USA, 1994)


The video release of this movie was an ominous event: a much-awaited, large budget film with a major star (Robin Williams), director (Bill Forsyth) and producer (David Puttnam) suddenly appearing with little fanfare and no prior cinema screening. Forsyth himself was apparently not too proud of the result, publicly describing it as a project that got out of his control.

It is certainly an odd movie, quite adrift for the first of its two hours. It is an ambitious, self-consciously mythic mosaic of five stories, each featuring a hero named Hector (Williams). Its subject is the melancholic bewilderment of the middle-aged male throughout human history, disconnected from his family, his destiny and his emotions. Williams does not get to mug and trumpet funny voices as in Mrs Doubtfire (1993); instead, he spends the whole film looking like a sad, old dog waiting to be put down.

It is hard to imagine how this film could ever have come together successfully. Forsyth pitches it as a morality play in the vein of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Historical realism is avoided so that the message of each tale is transparent; on top of that, an awful voice-over narration has been added telling us ad nauseam about the “eternal story” of man, woman and child.

Still, something of Forsyth’s formidable sensibility manages to survive this debacle. His rude, everyday approach shows in casual plot details involving cannibalism, ritual suicide, and the sight of new lovers picking fleas from each other’s hair. At least two of the five stories (especially the one featuring Anna Galiena) are quite moving. And Forsyth’s limpid, understated style of filming and cutting can invest even Robin Williams’ stony face with a quiet pathos.

MORE Williams: The Fisher King, Patch Adams

© Adrian Martin October 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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