My Papillon-Like Obsession!

By

Mansour Rad

From the very beginning, I mean when I was a child and my father took me to a movie theater in Tehran, screening ‘Papillon‘, the great 1973 movie, I felt it was something that I had never experienced and when we were leaving the salon among the crowd of people, I was unable to say even a word about it, despite prior times that I used to immediately question my father in a row about the movie we had watched.

It was something a lot bigger than just an entertaining movie to quickly find the right words to express my feelings or make things clear about it by asking some simple questions. Just like when entering the dark salon of a movie theater, the eyes need time to adapt to the new situation and vice versa when you leave the dark salon and enter a bright area, my mind needed time to adapt to different parts of the movie, each so touching, impressive, unbelievable and thoughtful, but I was wondering how long it would take to adapt.

My hand was in the hand of my father making his way through a crowd of people to a bus stop to go back home, while I was already immersed in and delighted with the final great escape of Papillon (Steve McQueen) at the end of the movie and the impressive soundtrack that echoed in my mind. I was sitting next to my father on the bus and it was moving while I was thinking of the Devil’s Island and that high leap and the vast sea waiting for him, how he had counted the waves and found out about the seventh wave as a promise to be pushed toward the middle of sea and actually freedom.

 

 

 

 

I was looking at my father’s face trying to read his mind to see if he was thinking of the movie and which part of it mostly, but he was silent and caring not to miss the right station to get off. I was looking at the faces of other people sitting next to or in front of us or walking in the streets and thinking how many of them could have been really reliable in a situation like the one in the movie or which one of them could have helped me if I was captured in a situation like that, by giving some extra food to me and in return, I would never disclose their name. Somehow I felt all the people around me had watched the movie and I could go to them sharing our joy or in the case of having any questions, but they were so busy and, once I looked to my father to ask him what about any sharks in the sea waiting for Papillon, he suddenly stood up, took my hand again and we got off.

On the way he bought some foodstuffs and loaves of warm bread. I remembered how Papillon was recommended by his kind friend Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman) not to quickly chew the coconut slices he had sent for him in secret when he was in a solitary cell. Then I thought how rich we were by having all those foodstuffs and how free we were to choose whether to eat them all at once or little by little. We were now at the neighborhood and the father said hello to some neighbors and I felt a relief as Papillon attempted his first escape.

When we got home my father took off his coat but my mother, milking my little sister and waiting for another sister to come back from school, told him something and they went to the kitchen. The father tried a water valve and then tried to close it but it was apparently not working. My father sat down and leaned back onto the pillow but mother insisted on doing something about it right then. Father stood up, put his coat on angrily, took a piece of bread on the table, put some of it in his mouth and took another piece, handing it to me, going out to find someone to fix the water leakage. I kept the piece of still warm bread in my mouth, as Louise had recommended Papillon, and began to wonder if the wife of Louise would have saved him from that horrible prison at the end or not.

It’s been many years sine that day and is so strange that the whole movie or at least parts of it come to my mind on different occasions, though I am wondering why I haven’t been able to watch my favourite movie again after all these years! Maybe because there has been no need to refer to it as a movie and it has turned into an idea remaining somewhere in my mind and always available to me.

 

 

 

 

Throughout my entire life, I have always admired what Papillon did at the end of the movie, blaming the ridiculous way of living Louis ended up with, growing cabbages and breeding pigs or the like! But as years come and go, one after another, and I become older, I begin to think that Papillon wasn’t a perfect hero who did the right thing!

Every month from my salary come the high costs of living, regular expenses, charges, banks and never ending installments and, once one installment is finished, two new ones emerge from nowhere. I’d like to be a Papillon and wish to make that high leap one day but those chains tightly tied around me, make me bored and completely burned out and sometimes I feel Louis was a wise man and what he did and remaining there working and living with the shadow of a wish in his mind that someday someone would come and save him, was a more rational act in real life than what Papillon did. Still the magic melody of the last scene touches me a great deal, but I immediately come back to my own senses and whisper that I should not let that seducing sound drive me crazy and this is real life not a movie. After all, Papillon actually committed a suicide-like act and fear of living in that far away island and dying there made him escape in that strange and illogical way and it suited only the world of imagination and cinema.

Now coping with all life’s difficulties, I feel Louis, not Papillon, was a wise man because he remained patient and thoughtfully managed his life and never counted on the seventh wave as Papillon did and what the narrator said at the end of the movie about Papillon living some more years in freedom was just a big lie to show his final act right and effective and make a happy ending for the movie.

On the other hand, having two children in need of me pushes back the idea of that high fall in my mind and I prefer to stay with them wherever we are, and every time I come up with some new reasons supporting what Louis did, yet I don’t know why, something deep inside me occasionally keeps whispering in my ears that “Never forget that Papillon was, is and will be the perfect hero in the reality we are in!” and I say “OK! You might be right about him but let me live in my own way, please!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mansour Rad

Mansour Rad

Mansour Rad was born in Iran, in 1970 and now works as a translator. He is married with two children and is living in Tehran.

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