Gandhi (1982) (PG)

Maybe it was just an emotional day for me, or maybe it was the end of an emotional week, or maybe (and I think the likeliest) I wasn't old enough to appreciate "Gandhi" the first time that I saw it. The movie's long running time, the old-timey epic feel to it, I think they all flew over my head. What I saw today when I revisited it, is a piece of cinema that has not lost any of its thematic power, though many audiences now would opt for a three hour robot-fest and not this film.
The movie opens to Gandhi's assassination in the late 40s and then throws us back to before the turn of the century, where Gandhi (Ben Kingsley in one of his most famous roles) is a lawyer in South Africa. He does not receive the same treatment as other British citizens, simply because he is Indian and the first scene we are witness to sees him thrown out of first class on a train.
But he won't take this lying down and equality becomes the word on the tip of his tongue. He holds a few demonstrations, gets beaten up and tossed around in jail and then released. His peaceful but "non-cooperative" method baffles many legal ties.
Eventually, he becomes a figure that is politicized and as India starts to struggle for independence, he becomes a key figure in representing both the people and the ideas they stand for.
"Gandhi" is a sprawling work that covers over fifty years and never lets any of its screen time go to waste. It fills every second with a quest to understand its titular character's heart, something that we are told in the beginning.
Not only is "Gandhi" massive in its time, but it is massive in production. Being a love child of Richard Attenborough, the film remains the movie with the most extras and when you see Gandhi's funeral scene, it's almost too large to take it.
Certainly one of the grandest and best, if least influential of all Hollywood's epics, the movie channels David Lean with a more emotional reward.
The script by John Briley is one of the finest ever written and has such nuances that every sentence feels like it was destined for a meme somewhere in the internet.
But above all, this is a film about triumph and failure. Personal triumph, triumph over self and government and failure to both. Failure to self is what drives Gandhi to have hunger strikes, to remind the people of India that they are not the mindless evils that the Western world assumes them to be.
Now, the film takes obvious licenses; but what I find most curious is how Attenborough paints the Indian people. He never flatters the British and often villainizes them, making it clear with just how he shoots the scenes in India, that the people there are not a set design for him, but actually part of the film, the backbone if you will.
Ben Kingsley turns in a stunning performance and one that will never be forgotten. For a film that's now considered a snooze-fest for how boring it is, it baffles me how some can watch all the violence, murder, history, philosophy, religion, and character development and think that this is a boring movie.
"Gandhi" swept the Oscars and won rightfully deserved statues, beating out more fanciful and fun works like "Tootsie"; but I think anyone witnessing the spectacle of the movie would realize that it never overplays any of its cards. It could be solely about history, racism, or religion and it's about none of these things. It is not only about Gandhi, but about him and his country, him and his belief.
Successful at its best, the movie seeks to find Gandhi's heart, and I think that they did...somewhere in the vastness of the film.

Score: ★★★★

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