Cape Town professor David Lurie blatantly refuses to defend himself for an affair with a colored student whom he gave a passing grade for an exam she didn't even attend. Dismissed, he moves to his daughter Lucy's farm, which she runs under most disadvantaged terms, favoring the black locals. Yet rowdies, unprovoked, violently rob and abuse them both. Lucy refuses to fight back, unlike David, who is surprised by his own altruistic potential. Written by
John Malkovich portrays an esteemed Capetown professor who lives somewhat in his own ivory tower, has an affair with a young student and finds his idyllic life in academia and ego-gratification shattered.
He decides somewhat on a whim to visit his daughter Lucy, who runs a farm on the South African coast. She cares for several dogs and has a native worker who helps her on the farm. It is a small cohesive village and she is on the outside looking in, a veritable intruder, in more ways than one.
The story develops and foreshadows the violence which is beset upon Lucy and her father by a local disturbed boy who rapes her, along with a gang of two other young men. Her father sustains burns, but does not see what actually happens to Lucy in the other room, although the audience can infer she is being raped repeatedly.
Malkovich at first approaches her gingerly, thinking she is damaged and distraught needing to move away from the farm and her assailants. However, the opposite proves to be true. In a rather dismal scene, Lucy tells her father she must remain, that rapes like this have occurred before, and she is owing this to the people of the land, that she must remain to take on a sort of punishment.
There are psychological nuances here. People inducing sadomasochism, or enduring it for their real or presumed character flaws. It makes for a compelling story, and I'd imagine the novel by J.M. Coetzee is a great read. The film at times does not translate this subtlety, and we are left feeling annoyed with Lucy and her victimized state.
Malkovich is good here, as usual, with an affected but acceptable accent, a restrained but marked need for sexuality in his later years. He has an affair with a local veterinarian where he brings some of Lucy's unfortunate dogs to be etherized.
The scene where Malkovich plays music for a dog, the dog responds to him, wanting his love, and he brings it to the vet to be destroyed is sad and stark. "Put it out of its misery", he tells her...and we almost imagine he is speaking of his own life instead of the dogs.
Overall a worthy film, although the book is probably much clearer in intent and I am now intrigued to read the authors works regarding animals and the fragility of life. Recommended. 8/10. **Addendum: Have finished the novel and it is a must read
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