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A grotesquely disfigured harpooner called Iguana is severely mistreated by his fellow sailors on a whaling ship in the 19th century. One night he escapes and takes up residence on a remote island. He makes himself ruler of the island and declares war on mankind. Anyone unfortunate enough to wind up on the island with Iguana is subjected to his cruel tyranny. Written by
A stark allegory on the darkest recesses of human nature.
I have immense respect for Hellman. The art-house establishment deigned to stoop down and pick Two-Lane Blacktop from the grindhouse cracks and curious bystanders have ventured into his early films to watch a young Jack Nicholson, but he's remained largely forgotten with long dry spells of not getting work or getting in paycheck movies. But here he is back in 1988, assembling a cast of marginal stars at one time or another (Everett McGill, Fabio Testi, Michael Madsen), by way of a story about a disfigured harpooner haunted by ridicule and ostracism who finds himself stranded on a deserted island and declares himself there sovereign king and ruler of a bunch of hapless sailors he keeps as slaves, Hellman creates a stark allegory on the darkest most base instincts of human nature: the need to oppress and avenge wrongs real and imaginary, to reassert one's individuality through strength if by no other means, to bridge one's alienation and lovelessness by using that very alienation and lack of love as a battering ram against those who denied them to him. The movie is heavily flawed, the narrative in the first half that switches between the deserted island and some unspecified Spanish colony is disjointed, and the movie, try as it might to mask the fact, has a low budget look, but Hellman does great job with his material. At times gorgeous to look at, with interesting interplays between the characters that keep the plot from veering too far into selfconscious allegory, the movie plays like an exotic adventure undercut with philosophic undertones that Herman Melville might have written, and indeed I think there's a similar story about a halfmad hermit-king who lived for years in the Galapagos related in his travelogue Los Encantadas.
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