The Mosquito Coast – Paul Theroux

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The little Haddy makes it’s way up a Guatemalan river, Mr Haddy sits on the bow of the boat directing where to go. The dark green emerald forest abounds all around, it is thick and beautifully alive.

Harrison Ford is Allie Fox,  he is wearing a yellow Cuban style shirt and is dripping with sweat in the Guatemalan jungle. River Phoenix plays Charlie Fox and he stares off into the wilderness in a wise and thoughtful way, he is our guide to this difficult tale. These are the overwhelming images that Peter Weir has gifted us, I remember watching this film as a child and feeling absorbed and engrossed in the story of this family.

I was always acutely aware that my mother disliked the movie, I think it frightened her the way that Allie Fox dragged his innocent family through those trials and tribulations.

This was the 80’s, it was a different world, the nuclear family was still at the forefront of peoples minds. The Cosby show and Family Ties and other shows like it reinforced this tight family unit.

I was part of a family just like Charlie Fox, I was about the same age and the story reached out to me, the sheer escapism of it. The destruction of a family the fear of the unknown.

It is interesting now to re-visit this movie and novel 25 years later, the world has changed a great deal and I feel it’s time to have another closer look at this story.

For those of you who have never seen the movie or read the novel the Mosquito Coast is about an Inventor from Massachusetts who decides he has had enough of consumerism and migrates to Guatemala with his family.

He attempts to set up a new civilization in the jungle and creates a giant ice maker, and attempts to take ice to the most remote Indians tribes to show them civilization.

However in his attempts to make contact with the Indians he courts the attention of some rebels, the rebels who seem merely curious are trapped and killed when he blows up his highly toxic ice-maker filled with Ammonia and Hydrogen. This destroys and poisons his civilization and the family are left to drift to the coast where they have to live out a very ordinary existence. He keeps them there by telling his family that America has been wiped out in a Nuclear holocaust.

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From here on in the family are left to drift, they settle again and are driven away again by the rising tide during a bad flood, after being warned by Haddy. Gradually the family start to turn on Allie until eventually he reaches his old nemesis the Reverend Spellgood and is shot for blowing up his Cessna light aircraft.

Allie becomes the worst kind of dictator and everyone he meets he forces to bend to his will. His family trustingly follow him through the whole ordeal, disgruntled Charlie has to deal with his increasing hate for his father while Jerry his brother and his other sisters are too young to understand what is going on.

As a character Allie sometimes feels a little empty, you never quite get under his skin. He has an air of mystery about him, I kept wondering about what made Allie the way he is? What made him behave in this way? Was he wrapped up in the civil rights movement? What about his family?

The story sometimes feels like a fable with a simple moral lesson for us to absorb:  “Really bad things happen to people who don’t listen to anyone”

It ponders, nature and environmentalism and plays it between the figures of a father who wants to ‘improve things’ and a mother who is happy to ‘accept the way things are’.

Underneath is a deep discontent of the modern world, he is an escapee from Twinkies and television and yet he feels the need to improve and modernise the empty jungle. By doing this he inadvertently becomes the thing he hates the most, the thing he was trying to escape from.

The American pioneer is here and so is the protestant work ethic, as an atheist American he becomes a modern day Benjamin Franklin and maybe Franklin would of despised modern American consumerism too?

I remember very clearly people talking in my world about this movie, It sat uncomfortably and many people where not ready then for this kind of thing.

These days many people think organic and sustainable, I have solar panels on my roof and the nuclear family just isn’t a major thing anymore. Allie Fox would be surprised at the way society is going, maybe not enough to make him stay in America but certainly some of the things that seemed like a rant then are now becoming a reality.

There is certainly plenty here still to think about, it hasn’t past it’s expiry date in anyway.

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