Mosquito Coast (1986)

Tacoma Film Club member Brendan Funtek provides the following information about our August discussion film, The Mosquito Coast (1986).


This a film based on the Paul Theroux novel and adapted for the screen by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ) and directed by Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock, Witness, The Year of Living Dangerously). The film was shot by cinematographer John Seale (Witness, The English Patient, Mad Max: Fury Road).

The film stars Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, River Phoenix, Martha Plimpton and Andre Gregory.

“There isn’t much onscreen with which an audience might identify, so The Mosquito Coast faced an uphill and losing struggle at the box office, but its superior performances and potent political symbolism make it a worthy companion to other such “bungle in the jungle” films as Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) and Apocalypse Now (1979).” Karl Williams, Allmovie

“Given that Paul Theroux’s harrowing tale of jungle craziness is one of the least filmable properties of recent years, Weir’s river journey to the heart of darkness works considerably better than one might imagine. Meticulously translated from the book, Mosquito Coast charts the mental decline and fall of idealistic inventor Allie Fox [Ford], who drags wife and family to the jungles of Central America in a doomed effort to bring ice to the natives.” Derek Adams, Time Out New York

“Fox transforms a remote outpost on the island into a thriving community equipped with numerous Rube Goldberg-like gadgets to harness the forces of nature and make life better for the inhabitants. For a while it’s an idylic little utopian community, but the seeds of its downfall are present even as it thrives.” Variety

“Weir tells the story from Charlie’s [Phoenix] point of view, and there are scenes where the world of adults is something mysterious, consisting of conversations behind closed doors and swirls of smoke and noise and men with drinks in their hands and laughter at things you don’t understand. When Allie makes the decision to make good on his talk of leaving America behind, it’s an adventure. It’s presented as this exciting and weird thing, and there’s one moment in particular as they’re leaving when Mother Fox (Helen Mirren) looks at the dishes in the sink, still steaming from just being washed, and she smiles. She has no idea what they’re about to do, what they’re going to go through. She’s just happy because Allie’s happy and he’s determined and he seems like he’s got a plan.” Drew McWeeny, Hitfix “Movie Rehab”

“The American tradition…is to have the hero, the leading man, particularly these rare people like Harrison Ford with his great strength and integrity – these people like John Wayne and Steve McQueen, who are part of the fiber of the culture – to have the hero start off with a flaw that is healed or cleansed. At the end, he walks off into the sunset, and he’s a better man for the experience. It is as much a part of the American myth as the poor kid selling newspapers on the streetcorner who grows up to become president of the United States. It’s all part of the winning turbine that drives this country to succeed, to triumph, to overcome the odds. But it’s left untouched the whole tradition of drama that goes back to the Greeks and beyond – of failure – and of visions that are too limited. Of great men who collapse.” Peter Weir

Trivia: Jack Nicholson was originally cast for the role of Allie Fox but turned down the role once he found out he couldn’t watch his beloved Los Angeles Lakers from the filming location of Belize. Instead, Nicholson won an Oscar for Terms of Endearment in a role also offered to Ford. Admitting in a 1992 interview this was his only film to lose money, Ford had no regrets for his oft-forgotten portrayal of Fox: “I’m still glad I did it. If there was a fault with the film, it was that it didn’t fully enough embrace the language of the book. It may have more properly been a literary rather than a cinematic exercise. But I think it’s full of powerful emotions.”

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