The Best Picture Winners: Gandhi (1982)

| December 26, 2017

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

I once referred to Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi as a Broccoli Movie – a term that I invented to describe any movie that is no-doubt very good, but also good for you.  In other words, not the first movie that you would immediately choose to spend a casual evening with even though you cannot discount its merits.  Over the years I have waffled in that opinion particularly in light of the passion with which it was made.

It is difficult for me to dismiss the pure passion with which Attenborough approached this material.  He spent a decade trying to finance this project and so it was, indeed, his labor of love – all of that is present in the film.  It also turns out to be the film’s undoing.  It is hard not to be moved by the story of Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi (played by Best Actor winner Ben Kingsley), the Indian leader who spent half of his life leading his people in a revolt against British occupation of his own country.  But the film is kind of worshipful of Gandhi as well and that’s where I find myself at odds with it.

In his time, Gandhi was a controversial figure for many of his political stances that the movie glosses over.  That challenge to the audience removed, the film feels a bit repetitive.  Gandhi stands firm, and the British push back.  Gandhi stands firm again, and the British again push back, and so on until India is free.  Over and over he is brought to trial and imprisoned as the support gets stronger and stronger.

As for the man himself, you see progress being made but since Gandhi is presented as such a saint, it is difficult to detect what changes are occurring in his own soul.  Naturally, he’s angry over what is being done to his people, but what outrage is happening inside him?  Was there ever a moment when he was tempted to pick up a weapon?  I love Ben Kingsley’s hard-working performance, but I found it difficult to get to the all-too human aspects of Gandhi himself.

Gandhi, to me, feels like a clean textbook overview of the great man’s life.  He is a man who did great things, who achieved independence for his country, but I guess I was looking for a much deeper portrait.  Who is this man?  Who is the man inside?  How do I connect with him?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.