Monday, October 14, 2013

Papillon's Story Is Finally Complete and Finished

Whenever the South American nation of Guiana is mentioned, most, if not all of us, think of the Steve McQueen–Dustin Hoffman film, Papillon. After all, this classic prison tale—set in the penal colony of French Guiana and its offshore solitary-confinement counterpart, Devil’s Island—put Guiana on the populace’s proverbial map.

So it should be no surprise that when I received an e-mail today mentioning a Guyanese man in a mildly amusing anecdote, I reflexively thought of this great film. Now, the e-mail is almost certainly a fabrication—I could find no verification of it on the Internet. Still, I couldn’t help but think that this anecdote should have constituted the narration at the end of Papillon, rather than the brief explanation of the infamous French prisoner’s ultimate fate and the destiny of the penal colony.*
* Although I believe that this colorful anecdote should have been spoken—like the film’s actual postscript—rather than shown, I have included it below as text because I can't afford to pay the original narrator to call each one of you and speak it.

Frankly, I’m surprised some innocuous yarn wasn’t used as the film’s postscript, considering how ardently Hollywood demands a happy ending. After all, what could provide a happier ending than a slightly charming, somewhat-clichéd slice of life about the trials of domesticity to which many of us not incarcerated in a pestilential jungle hellhole can relate?
 Sure, Papillon “made it to freedom,” but he made it several months after the end of World War II—too late to do his duty for France by surrendering to the Germans…certainly a sadder ending to the film than the brief, wry smile provided by this anecdote.
I fully expect the contents of this e-mail to replace the film’s original postscript when Papillon is inevitably re-released in 2023 for its golden anniversary.

(Images fromPapillon copyright Allied Artists.)

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