BU Film School

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

FT 540 Reading: The Year of Living Dangerously

Screenplay info
Written by: C.J. Koch, Peter Weir, and David Williamson (based on Koch's novel)
Film info: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0086617

Opens with a puppet show -- eternal struggle between light and dark.

Guy Hamilton arrives in airport. Anti-U.S., -British, -UN signs. Large poster of Sukarno. Hamilton from Sydney, passes scrutiny by airport officials. Hamilton is met by Kumar, who works for ABS (Australian Broadcasting Service). Potter, Hamilton's predecessor, was supposed to stay on a couple of weeks and introduce Hamilton to his contacts; however, Hamilton learns from Kumar that Potter's already gone.

Hamilton is taken to the Hotel Indonesia. Beggar's chorus. A scene at the Wayang Bar introduces some of Hamilton's fellow newsies -- Wally, Curtis, Condon, and Billy Kwan. Except for Kwan, these are typical Western macho men, currently engaged in drinking and looking at photos. Curtis raves about the low prices for prostitutes. Kwan remarks that starvation is a great aphrodisiac. Hamilton enters. CIA guy? No, new ABS guy. Kwan introduces everyone. Already, there is a competitive undertone (asks Curtis if Saigon is the place to be, why are you still here?). This is Hamilton's first overseas post, so he's looking to go up and up. Billy idolizes Sukarno. The experienced hands offer Hamilton advice. Hamilton leaves, followed by Kwan. Wally: "I think our Billy has found himself a hero."

Kwan urges Hamilton to get out among the people, and takes him for a stroll. They're followed by beggars, drivers, touts. Hamilton is spat on. Kwan takes Hamilton to the market. "What then must we do." He suggests Hamilton give money, but Hamilton says it wouldn't do much good. "We [journalists] can't afford to get involved." Kwan notes that Hamilton won't get anywhere without Potter's contacts.

Hamilton goes to the palace in the morning, takes off shades for the guard. While Sukarno has breakfast, the newsies trade cynical banter. Sukarno finishes, which precipitates a rush for the stairs. Hamilton is too late to get any interviews. He files a piece about Sukarno walking a tightrope, which the Sydney office tells him he could have written from there. Hamilton snaps at Kumar not to call him Boss, then regrets it and offers him a cigarette.

Hamilton goes to the ABS office to try to do some work. Kwan, who'd been given a key by Potter so he could store equipment there, shows up, surprising Hamilton. Kwan offers help with interviews, starting with Aidit, the head of the PKI (Communists). "We'll make a good team, old man. You for the words, me for the pictures. I can be your eyes."

They get interview, which Hamilton transmits. The story lands on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, to the bitter envy of others. Curtis vents his jealousy by telling Hamilton why he was picked for the interview -- a more experienced journalist wouldn't ahve swallowed the story whole. If Sukarno really goes with Peking, it'll mean civil war.

Curtis asks what Hamilton does for sex. Curtis and Kwan trade more barbs. As a joke, Curtis brings over a present for Hamilton -- a dwarf to follow him everywhere. Hamilton is pissed, Kwan hurt.

Hamilton and Kwan go to the latter's bungalow, which is air-conditioned (Kwan's one concession). Hamilton looks at photos. Kwan shows him puppets, explains about shadow-play. Sukarno balances left with right. Prince is the hero, but also fickle and selfish. There's also the Princess, and the dwarf (who serves the prince). Hamilton notices a photo of Jill, whom Kwan says he'll meet later.

At the swimming pool, Kwan introduces Hamilton to Colonel Ralph Henderson and Jill Bryant. Jill is leaving in three weeks -- been there too long. Hamilton and the Colonel race. Hamilton lets the other man win.

At the ABS office, Tiger Lily mentions to Hamilton that Kumar has troubles with the military -- they demand money each week from his father's shop. Hamilton forces Kumar to take money. Kwan runs in with news of a riot at the U.S. Embassy. On the ride over, Kumar remarks that the PKI would at least give them discipline. Kwan retorts that Stalin gave the Russians discipline, and wiped out 10 million.

At the embassy, rioters hold up signs and yell at the guards. A truck comes up and dumps rocks for them to throw. Another truck comes, but is blocked by the ABS car, and hits it repeatedly. Hamilton and Kwan get out, and Kwan films the riot from Hamilton's shoulders. Rioters try to wrest away the camera. Hamilton and Kwan barely get back inside, and the car manages to drive away.

At his bungalow, Kwan tends to Hamilton's leg. Hamilton says Jill is not his type, but Kwan isn't convinced. Hamilton spots a photo of Jill and Philippe. Hamilton observes that Kwan keeps guys at bay, then apologizes when he sees that Kwan's hurt. Hamilton notices files (which in film we know about from the beginning), and confronts Kwan. Kwan insists that he's not an agent ... Hamilton will just have to trust him.

Kwan goes to Ibu's hut (enables us to see more of poverty). He gives her rice, and money for a doctor to see her sick boy.

Wally is getting a bungalow! There's a party at his new place. Kwan enters, wearing a Sukarno cap. Kwan catches Wally and Hadji in an intimate moment. As people leave to make curfew, the Colonel remarks to Hamilton that the latter's still young and brave enough to speculate. Jill tells him that his famine piece was melodramatic (though she adds that her roommate was in tears).

Hamilton is not having a great typing day ... he wads up paper and throws them at the basket, which he directs Kumar to put back where it was (since he likes challenges). Jill comes by, looking for Kwan. Hamilton offers her a ride, even though Kumar reminds him he has something at noon (which Hamilton says to cancel) and interviews at 3. On the way to Kwan's, she explains that his famine piece had one too many reference to rib cages, etc. Kwan's not at his bungalow. Hamilton says he has interviews at Priok -- would she like to come?

Hamilton and Jill are at a cafe. They talk about Billy (not agent), Jill (spook?). Suddenly it starts to rain, and the two run for Hamilton's car. They drink a toast amidst the sudden romantic tension. Hamilton drops off Jill at the embassy and asks if she'd like to have dinner, but she declines that and all future invitations -- she's leaving soon, and doesn't want any complications. Kwan develops photos of Jill and Hamilton at the cafe.

Hamilton listens to his famine piece, then tries to call Jill (getting her flatmate instead). Kwan has new shots of Jill. Jill tells Kwan she has no regrets.

Kwan tells Hamilton to use his bungalow. Hamilton's not sure he wants to go to the Brits' cocktail party, but Kwan notes that Jill will be there.

Hamilton, having scrambled to get a suitable outfit put together, shows up very, very late to the party (as curfew's approaching). At first Jill won't go with him, but later shows up at his car. They drive through a roadblock (soldiers fire) and go to Kwan's bungalow. Kwan notes the bullet holes in Hamilton's car.

The newsies chaff Hamilton. Curtis misspeaks, and Hamilton shoves him. Jill's coworkers know, the colonel disapproves. Jill finds out about the PKI arms shipment (either from colonel, as in screenplay, or from coded message, as in film). She walks in the rain, then goes to the ABS office and embraces Hamilton.

At Kwan's bungalow, Jill tells Hamilton about the shipment. He immediately starts speculating and thinking of it as a story, but she tells him he can't use it -- she told him for his safety. Kwan later admonishes Hamilton that Jill told him in confidence. Hamilton says he'll get independent confirmation, but Kwan still feels betrayed.

Curtis tells Hamilton he got Saigon, and the two drink. In the film, they dance with Indonesian women, which angers the Indonesian men. One of the men pulls a gun, cutting short the dancing. As Hamilton's driving with Curtis, prostitutes surround the car. A gleeful Curtis gets out, but Hamilton drives off.

Hamilton investigates. Kumar drives him up north, and stops at a villa for a rest. Tiger Lily is there too. Water from the moon -- something one cannot ever have. Tiger Lily dives into pool. Hamilton sleeps. It's extremely hot. Hamilton has a nightmare of diving in after Tiger Lily to save her, only to have her push him back under. At breakfast, Hamilton confronts Kumar -- PKI, aren't you? Kumar confirms the shipment. In screenplay, Hamilton tries to drive on but is blocked by a mob.

Kwan goes to Ibu's house. Her son is being prepared for cremation. Kwan stares at a poster of Sukarno, and sees people fighting for rice.

The newsies are celebrating Curtis' post to Saigon. Kwan appears. He's completely disillusioned with Sukarno. Wally points out that Sukarno's only thought of the people was of getting pleasure from women. Kwan points out that Wally does the same thing, but with boys. Curtis slams Kwan against the wall, but Hamilton makes him put Kwan down. Ali, the bartender/agent, has overheard and smiles.

Kwan runs out of the bar, with Hamilton in pursuit. They confront each other on the street (defaced Sukarno posters). Kwan says he would've given up the world for Jill, but Hamilton couldn't even give up one story. He also says he put Hamilton and Jill together, which angers Hamilton. "I created you."

Hotel reception. Hamilton tries to speak to Jill, but she's cool toward him. Kwan asks for a room. Security men are checking the hotel (Sukarno is due to appear). Kwan hangs a banner from the window: "Sukarno, Feed Your People". People, including Hamilton and Condon, stare upwards, and security men quickly locate Kwan. He's thrown out of the window. Hamilton and Condon run to him. The banner disappears, so that Sukarno doesn't see it when he arrives. Jill tries to get to Hamilton and Kwan, but is blocked by the ring of security around them.

Hamilton goes to Kwan's bungalow. Jill is already there -- she doesn't want the police to get Kwan's files. Hamilton tells her to reserve a space on the next day's flight. They both get out before the police arrive.

Hortono, a driver, is listening to the radio at the ABS office -- troops are at the palace. Hamilton and Hortono go out. Hamilton is sure that they won't touch the press, so he walks up to the barricade, shows his card, speaks a few words (they don't understand each other) and walks by. The sergeant runs after him and hits him with the butt of his gun in the eye. Hamilton is dragged back and put back in the car.

Hamilton is at Kwan's bungalow. The doctor says he must stay still or he could lose the eye. Hortono, afraid for his family, leaves. After a time, Hamilton hears noises. It's Kumar. He says the PKI has failed, and he's a dead man. "Westerners don't have answers anymore." Hamilton convinces Kwan to drive to the airport -- Kwan can then use the car to escape into the hills.

Kumar drives. They pass soldiers doing executions at the roadside. A soldier challenges Kumar, but Hamilton quickly intercedes and offers his papers. After a few tense moments, they are let through. Hamilton endures a few tense moments at the airport -- pushing through the crowd, waiting to be processed. Just as he's about to go out of the terminal, he's stopped again. The officials take his tape recorder for inspection. As they're looking at it, Hamilton walks away, out of the terminal, and up to the plane. He is met by Jill on the plane.

My notes
-- strange, exotic setting. Westerners, especially Hamilton, are outsiders.
-- Hamilton loses Billy, loses access. Shut off, no longer protected by press privilege. Arrogant. Sufferings are just stories.
-- People not puppets, though Billy acts as such.
-- Hamilton the most keyed into Indonesian reality, and even he's oblivious.
-- Loses eye, gains wisdom (Odin) -- no longer figuratively blind.

FT 540 notes (from 06/05/03)
-- Hamilton blind to environment. He's a good-looking goof -- not a hero, but trying to become one. Kwan's mythology.
-- "The Unseen is all around us" -- unseen factors shaping things. The environment: unstable, between phases. Guy is in the beginning phase, Jill the ending phase, Billy the cosmic phase. Characters in relation to environment: Guy wants to dominate it, Jill is in rapprochement, Billy wants change.
-- cosmic imager, social imagery, personal imagery
-- background: clash between Communists and Moslems (who'd kicked the Dutch out), both proletarian. Sukarno played a game between East and West. The Communists tried to take over but were annihilated, and Sukarno became a puppet of the military.
-- Billy considers himself figure out of shadow-play, has cast Guy and Jilly as prince and princess. He sees Sukarno as a god-like figure.
-- BIlly slips around environment (dwarf, unseen), and allows Guy to be a part of it. Guy wants to dominate, not averse to betrayal. Jill wants to get out. Affair with her boss. She's MI -- spook. Billy wants positive change. Results: Guy loses eye, Jill gets out, Billy dies.
-- Guy sees puppets, Billy sees cosmic drama -- poetic correspondence. More than one meaning to event.


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