UNDER THE VOLCANO (John Huston, 1984)

Albert Finney (best actor, London, Los Angeles critics) achieves almost frightening brilliance as embittered, chronically alcoholic former British diplomat Geoffrey Firmin, whom we follow throughout one day—his last—beginning in Cuernavaca, in Morelos, Mexico, in 1938. It is the day after the Day of the Dead.
     Malcolm Lowry’s 1947 novel responded to Virginia Woolf’s 1925 Mrs. Dalloway, which responded to James Joyce’s 1922 Ulysses. But John Huston’s disappointing film, following Guy Gallo’s simplistic script, removes Lowry’s flashbacking procedure and his powerful insight into the inroads made by world events in the disintegration of an individual psyche. Rather, the film finds Firmin’s last lap into death stemming from the failure of his marriage to Yvonne, whose letters over the course of their separation, unopened, he believes lost, and humiliation over Yvonne’s affair with his half-brother, Hugh, who has just quit the scene of the disastrous Spanish Civil War and claims he may join the RAF for the upcoming confrontation with Germany. Both Hugh and Yvonne remain guilt-ridden, and two incidents note Hitler’s agitating hand in Mexican politics; but Huston’s film seems as insulated, and hence as misguided, as Stephen Daldrey’s The Hours (2002), which disengages Woolf’s suicide in 1941 from the pressures of her worries that the world is headed for its end.
     Still, there are fine moments, such as when a boy on horseback slowly moves through the street while playing a flute, drawing Yvonne’s remark: “[H]is eyes are closed. The horse knows his way home.”
     But, of course, Geoffrey has most of the good lines: “One cannot live without love,” “People just don’t go around putting other people into furnaces,” “There are things for which one cannot apologize”—this last, poised between guilty confession and Geoff’s suppressed rage against Hugh and Yvonne.

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