City of Joy

By Murray Bourne, 04 Feb 2006

City of Joy

A young-looking Patrick Swayze stars in this 1992 movie about paths to enlightenment, failed dreams, poverty and fulfillment through helping others.

An American doctor (Swayze) is devastated when his young patient dies in the operating theatre. He quits his job and goes to India to find enlightenment (or at least to get away from the trauma of losing a patient).

Meanwhile, an Indian farmer loses everything to unscrupulous money lenders (no, not the banks, this time). He takes his family to the slums of Kolkata (Calcutta to those of you who have not been keeping up) in the hope of getting work. He is ripped off by some scum and the family ends up sleeping on the streets. You can practically smell the stench of rubbish and pools of water containing unmentionable floating things.

The doctor has passport/visa problems and is trapped in India until it is sorted out. He meets a Catholic nurse (a Mother Teresa wannabe?) who is running a free clinic in the slums. She begs the doctor to help them but he refuses.

He meets the farmer and by helping each other, good things start to happen.

Themes that I found interesting in the movie:

  • The resentment of the loud-mouthed American butting into local affairs (I could see this from both sides, having lived in Asia now for 12 years)
  • The poverty, followed by more poverty. There is something very wrong when Swayze's salary for this movie could support hundreds of slum dwellers for years. We have to put more effort into poverty reduction.
  • The majority of the world's people have very few choices - including the strict marriage customs of the Indians. A poignant moment in the movie is when the farmer is marrying off his daughter and tells her "I never really owned you - you were just on loan until you got married". Hmmm

A bit slow at the beginning and the editing is odd in places, but worth watching.

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