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Movie Review: The Constant Gardener

By Mike Everleth ⋅ September 5, 2005

The Constant Gardener

What’s the uppermost limit of our collective outrage?

In the 1930s, hundreds of black men in Tuskagee, Alabama were diagnosed with syphilis and were denied treatment to study the procession of the disease. The test subjects weren’t told what disease they were suffering from, nor were they given penicillin, which would have cured them. This was a test sponsored by the U.S. government.

In the 1940s, mentally challenged teenage boys warehoused at a school for undesirables were fed oatmeal infused with radioactive material. They, nor their parents, were told about the experiment, which was sponsored by both the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and Quaker Oats.

Today, drug company Merck was forced to pay over $253 million to a widow whose husband died after taking Vioxx. Evidence revealed that the company kept quiet reports that Vioxx increased the risk of heart attacks in patients. Merck has pulled Vioxx of the market, but is facing more lawsuits and continues to do business.

At the center of THE CONSTANT GARDENER lies a somewhat lackadaisical mystery that the film is really only peripherally concerned. Governments and corporations–oftentimes in collusion–do bad things. This isn’t a condemnation, but a statement of fact. Of couse we would like for these kinds of things not to happen, but the sad reality is that they have happened throughout history and will probably continue.

The real heart of the film isn’t about the evil that men do, but what love makes good men do. THE CONSTANT GARDENER is a love story in reverse. Ralph Fiennes is an English diplomat on assignment in Africa and just minutes into the film he discovers that his wife, Rachel Weisz, has been murdered, her body left to rot on a dusty road out in the middle of the desert. Through flashbacks, we learn how they met and what the early days of their marriage were like. But it isn’t until the film catches back up to real time that the real love story begins. As Ralph digs deeper to find out just what his wife was involved in, his love for Rachel only grows, which explains the film’s unusual title.

Beautifully directed by the Brazillian Fernando Meirelles and shot by his frequent collaborator C├ęsar Charlone, THE CONSTANT GARDENER offers a lovely portrait of Africa, detailing its awe and beauty, as well as the ugly underbelly of poverty and opportunism.