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The discovery of heaven is the magnum opus of Dutch writer Harry
Mulisch, where science, religion and philosophy meet in a 900-page book
full of autobiographical details, among which the persecution of Jews
in WW2 and the roaring sixties. The story in a nutshell: Science and
technology have on earth substituted the Ten Commandments of Moses, so
a plan is conceived by God and his angels to bring the stone tablets of
the Ten Commandments back from earth to heaven, as the contract between
mankind and God is abandoned. Angels are given this task by God, and a
child is born on earth to accomplish heaven's plan. The child is the
result of a love triangle between astronomer Max Delius (the writer
Mulisch), politician Onno Quist and a cellist Ada Brons. (One example
of the level of detail in the book: A remarkable congruency is that
Max's father, who betrayed his Jewish wife in WW2, has three important
locations where his life played out and Auschwitz is the center of
again a triangle) As the book states that coincidence does not exist
and everything has a reason, all events happening are arranged by
angels in heaven including the conception of the child, although Max
Delius is on the brink of scientifically discovering heaven.
In the script they made a good effort to condense the book to its bare essentials by selecting the most relevant parts for the movie. But there are (also in the book) irrelevant loose elements that seem redundant and distract from the core message: Vietnam demonstrations, the whole Cuba part, some characters and relations add little. And there are things from the book they could have used like all mothers having the same face after the tablets are placed. Stephen Fry's often failed attempts to be funny are out of place although the book contains some humor: The weapon course in Cuba and Onno's walking stick interpreted as a miracle when seen as Moses' stick. The ending is better in the book than in the movie, where it is somewhat banal.
The pacing is unnecessarily slow despite the enormous amount of events happening in both the movie and the book. The story is told in a very predictable and straightforward way; the director Jeroen Krabbé is just not up to this job and has little imagination and visual style. Take the many direct references to religion and heaven and even the way heaven is represented. Or the clumsy way the deaths are foreshadowed with a short flash. I guess Peter Greenaway (planning to do a movie on Rembrandt) would have been a better choice as director, but this had to make some money being a lavish production for Dutch standards.
The role of God and angels is comparable here to that of the writer of the book; in the movie to the role of the director (and even actor Krabbé as angel). Because the best movies are usually about other movies, the book and script lacks writers, photographers, painters or publishers to lift this to a meta-level. Here we have the relative mundane politicians and scientists.
As science is about everything that can be potentially explained, religion is about everything that can not be explained rationally. The book and movie's statement that physics may one day take over religion, or make religion redundant, is fairly accurate as metaphysics is coming increasingly closer to a theory of everything. But as our knowledge increases, a warning is issued that it will not necessarily lead to a greater happiness or higher morality. The book and movie mixes small, uninteresting stories with larger-than-life stories in a strange and awkward way. It also messes things up inconsistently (e.g. in the book there is an image of concentration camps in space). Some of the book and movie consists of contrived, pseudo-intellectual nonsense, being deliberately pretentious lacking any mastery of the art form at hand (be it writing or film-making).
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** It is a complete riddle to me why the
press is so unanimously full of praise about this film. The hype
surrounding this movie by Jeroen Krabbe reminds me of the hype
surrounding the book on which the movie is based, Harry Mulisch's "The
Discovery of Heaven". The book triggered hysterical reactions in the
press. One of the leading Dutch literary critics, Carel Peeters, was so
taken with the book that he dedicated not one review to it, but a
series of reviews spanning several issues of the Vrij Nederland, a
rather serious Dutch weekly magazine. The public reaction to so much
hype was predictable: the book became a national best-seller. Almost
everyone interested in Dutch literature has read the book, and I guess
that this is the reason why so many people are so favorable of the
film: the film brings back memories of the book, and obviously these
are fond memories. However, that doesn't make this picture a good one.
I for one did not read the book, so there were no memories to cloud my eyes. I was sad to discover that this emperor isn't wearing any clothes whatsoever.
The main story is rather simple. God has decided to unilaterally cancel His contract with mankind, and He wants the stone tablets with the ten commandments returned to heaven. Instead of just sending down an angel, heaven chooses the rather awkward method of bullying a couple of humans into producing and raising a child that must retrieve the tablets and return them to heaven. I am not giving away too much plot here, because we are told so in the first five minutes of the film. This is the first major mistake, because the viewer's initial curiosity as to what the film is about is satisfied immediately, bereaving the movie of what could have been the most important tension arch. The movie is full of this kind of tension killers, which makes it predictable and rather dull to watch. That would all be fine if there was enough to compensate for this shortcoming: e.g. fine actors playing believable characters having sparkling conversations and handling interesting situations in surprising ways.
I am sad to say that the film falls short in these respects too. Although the acting is bearable, it is certainly not uplifting. I agree with the majority of reviews that Stephen Fry does a decent job (although Diana Quick as Ada's mum steals the show, IMHO). However the characters are all as flat as a Dutch dime. The director is too busy stressing their respective peculiarities that he forgets to turn them into people of flesh and blood. He makes some feeble attempts to flesh out Max a bit, by shedding some light on a tragedy that tore his family apart, but instead of making Max more believable, it only alienates him more from the audience.
This lack of real characters in turn adds to the sterile atmosphere of the movie, which piles contrived situation upon contrived situation. Take for example the scene where Onno and Max meet their angel-like love-interest Ada: she happens to be sitting in a second-hand bookstore, practicing Janacek on the cello. If you are allergic this kind of snobbish adolescent fantasies, you better run for cover, because the film is drenched with insipid allusions. The director and scriptwriter are constantly proving their wit--with a sledgehammer in case you should miss it. It lends the film an air of intellectual graveness, and betrays grand pretensions that it ultimately doesn't live up to.
The grand thing it does live up to is a pompous finale, Hollywood style, which seems to be mandatory nowadays for every movie that wants to play with the big boys. I guess that's what mr. Krabbe must have been thinking, because at the end of the movie he treats us to a ludicrous display of outdated computer graphics. It leaves the viewer blinking his eyes in utter bewilderment and asking himself: this was meant to be a joke, right?
Are there any good things to be said about this movie? Let me think. Well, it was very expensive. It cost about 13 million euro, making it the most expensive Dutch film in history. So it proves that we can make expensive films too. On the other hand, if you want a film that proves that the Dutch can make beautiful, witty and profound films as well, go see Mike van Diem's "Karakter" or Paul Verhoeven's "Turks Fruit", and, please, forget about this film.
I went to see Discovery of Heaven with a lot of anticipation. Having read
the book it's based on by Harry Mulisch, and loving it, I really wanted
picture to succeed. But you've got to be honest and understand that a 900
page epic spanning 3 generations and so many different locations is
impossible to translate to a movie no longer than about 135 min.,
Wrong!! I'm extremely pleased to say that Jeroen Krabbé has done the
-almost- impossible and pulled it off! He translated the book into an
amazing piece of cinema wich sets new standards for motion-picture in the
Netherlands, and may well be one of the best foreign language films of this
Just like the book, the movie has so many layers on wich it works. You've got the wonderful, extremely well acted, roles of Onno Quist (Stephen Fry), Max Delius (Greg Wise) and Ada Brons (Flora montgomery). And although they all acted very well, it was Stephen Fry's role wich is most memorable. With extreme charisma and charm he brings the role of the exentric Onno to life in a magnificent way. Then there is the screenplay, wich so brilliantly succeeds in summarazing the book and making sure all the important elements of the book are in place. And better still, it adds to the book on numorous levels, giving extra emotion to key scenes and extra meaning to certain themes. The screenwriter Edwin de Vries had a difficult task but he succeeded, with help of Mulisch himself, in creating a captivating story wich never bores throughout.
I could go on much longer now, covering about any aspect of the picture (most of it with praise), but I won't. I just want to finish with a big thanks to Krabbé and the whole crew who worked on this picture. You've pulled it off brilliantly, and brought a bright shining light in the otherwise often relatively dull Dutch Cinema.
Final score, a solid 9 out of 10!
It's been a long time since I've been impressed by dutch movies. I think
Jeroen Krabbe managed to create a pice of art by filming this movie, after
the book of Harry Mulish. I have not read the book, but I am convinced mr.
Mulish will be proud of the end result. Beforehand, I was a bit sceptical
about Stephen Fry, but all prejudice was unjust: this is a perfect cast.
Unfortunately Jeroen appeared in this movie as Gabriel, his dutch accent
makes his english sound funny. Luckily he had just a few few lines. In the
spirit of dutch movies a lot of naked people, but everything was filmed
In a tv interview, Jeroen recently told that people would talk to him on the streets, just to thank him for making this movie. If I would come across him in Amsterdam, I would do the same.
First of all, I am obliged to say my view on this movie was somewhat
coloured, because the novel this movie is based on is one of my favourites
and I know it by heart.
If you have read the novel, you should watch this movie really open-minded. The novel is a 900+-pages book with a lot of details and symbolism which you cannot completely explain in a 2-hour movie. However, the main story line and the highlights have been pretty well preserved, although the plot has been simplified and explained a bit.
On the other hand, if you haven't read the novel, I'm not too sure whether or not this is such a great movie. Of course, at no point the picture gets boring or inexplicable, but because so much details of the novel have been left away, the true meaning of the book and the real mission of the main character get drowned in the special effects and the smooth directing.
In the end, I'd have to give this movie a 9 out of 10, with one of the main drawbacks being the length: if this picture has lasted for another hour or two, the power of the novel would have remained so much more intact.
After going to the cinema to view this unusual movie, we decided to purchase it when it came out on DVD. After viewing it again, we were glad we purchased this movie. Jeroen Krabbe did a splendid job of directing it, and the cast was perfect for their roles. I am trying to obtain a copy of this book in English, and my boyfriend has read it in its original language and loved it very much. We give it a definite 2 thumbs up!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a very complicated movie, with implications that some people
probably will not want to consider. If you can go with the premise and
not have a cow at the implications, this is an excellent movie that
raises some interesting questions about, God, the universe,
relationships and a few more subjects.
The overlying plot has God deciding he has had enough of mankind and that he wants the covenant he made with Moses back. To that end he has several angels manipulate events so that a child can be produced who will be able to find the tablets it was written on and return them to heaven. The main plot has to to with the relationship between Onno, Max and Ada, three friends who unwittingly end up the focal point of the divine plot. It would be futile to try to simply explain the plot further since the film is very novel like in its structure and its unfolding.
This is a wonderful, heady film that makes you care deeply about all of the characters It also does what great films do, which is make you stop to think about what you believe, while telling you a damn good story. The more I think about it, the more I really like it.
The performances, with one exception are first rate. I think this is probably the best thing that Stephen Fry has done to date. His Onno is a wonderful cad, who is also a loving father. A wonderful, Oscar worthy performance.
The one exception are the young actors who portray Quentin. The performances are a bit uneven and don't make up a cohesive whole so that when we end up with the actor playing Quentin at 17, we don't particularly care for him much. You do warm to him, but it takes a while.(His part is also a bit odd which doesn't help.) I can't recommend this movie enough. Its a great great film that seems to have gotten lost on its way to a large part of the world. Its the cinematic equivalent of curling up with a really good novel. If you run across this film make an effort to go see, rent or tape it. You may not love it like me, but you certainly will be happy you saw it.
There is a lot to say about the movie, but I think you should enjoy it
yourself. For me it was balancing the odds. First of all Harry Mulisch is
not your average writer. I could never get into his books.
You might wonder why bother? Well that can be told in two words 'the Assault'. It got a Oscar, but even beyond that. The movie is an amazing story about the life of a boy that changes when a collaborator is executed in front of his house. The second factor was Jeroen Krabbe. He is an okay actor. Over the big international field nothing fantastic but for Dutch terms one of the best actors we have. When I saw his movie 'left luggage' I was totally overwhelmed. As a director he is at least 10 times better then as an actor. These factors made me check out 'The Discovery of Heaven.' The book I could never read. Well, it was an amazing journey. From the very beginning you will be mesmerized with the images of places unlike you would expect. The dialogues, the personality of the people and the settings. It is almost like the settings in the world politics were set up especially for these events. I think that the most amazing part is that you can go through the dialogues without ever wondering when the next action scene will be. Jeroen plays with the settings like they are part of the conversation itself.
But what is it about?
Well apparently god is not too pleased with the way the world turns. So he decides to remove his influence. This can only be done by sending someone down to get the tablets. So two men will meet a woman, the beautiful Ada Brons (Flora Montgomery) one will become the father and the child will grow up slowly receiving the images that will lead to the tablets containing the 10 commandments. The only problem is that time is running out. God's deadline must be met.
I can't wait to get this one on DVD.
Casting is brilliant (apart from the 5 year old Quintin who had a funny foreign/cockney mixed accent which threw me, but luckily he's only got a short part in the film). Usually I can't see Stephen Fry without getting irritated, but he Is Onno Quist! Jeroen Krabbé as usual gave himself a nice little part in the film he was directing... All in all a fitting tribute to a brilliant book, and ok, yes the end is a bit dodgy but then again the end of the book was the same and if you think about it, there was no other way to end the story... Usually if I go to see 'the film of the book' I'm left feeling disappointed, but this time I was pleasantly surprised.
Of course, the book was too good to make it into a movie. Nevertheless, the film is entertaining for non-readers and is above all, it's an equivocal enterprise. Acting is not very convincing (ada is terrible played, and humiliating is the acting of Krabbé himself, why does he always want to be "in the picture"?). The book is 900 pages and you can't fit that in two hours. The magical atmosphere, the unreal aura, and the creative style are not recognizable in the film. For example; the interventions from God and his angels are ridiculous as you see the film, where in the book, it's strange, magical and structuring. Another example; the friendship between Onno and Max is heavenly in the book, fragmentary in the film. For me, it was a 6/10; if you want a 10/10 go and read the book. But i know, it's "time-consuming" as they say, and time still seems to be money, bullsh*t of course! Time is life, time is the discovery of a heavenly book...
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