One of the things I’m lucky to be able to do during lockdown is still being able to spend Friday nights having dinner and watching a movie with my mom. This past Friday we sat down to watch Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, but of course once I heard it was a book, I needed to read it first.
Mosquito Coast follows the Fox family as the father, Allie Fox, decides he has had enough with the filth, corruption, and violence of the United States and moves his family to the depths of Honduras to begin anew. As the heat and the realities of living off the grid begin to settle in and Allie’s lofty ambitions grow more and more chaotic, the Fox family is pushed to their very limits in order to survive.
Told in first-person narration from the perspective of the eldest son, 13-year-old Charlie Fox, Paul Theroux’s novel is some of the most beautiful first-person writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading in my life. As Charlie watches his world – his father – falling apart around him, you truly feel like you know this young man who was forced to grow up in the blink of an eye simply because his father told him to. This book is clearly a classic you may never have heard of and Theroux just captures this young boy’s life in such a way that the depths are endless. It’s an adventure story, a family drama, and a question of how far you are willing to trust someone when that trust can get you killed just as much as walking away could.
It’s also an incredibly complex story. While everyone is very sympathetic, the Fox family is complicated. Charlie and his siblings are children so their choices cannot be judged too harshly by the readers, but when it comes to the mother – only referred to as Ma, Mom, or Mother – her dedication to Allie as he falls deeper and deeper into his own head is questionable at the very least. She’s someone I desperately want to understand but her loyalty reached a point where it could only be compared to a woman in a heavily abusive relationship that has been convinced she has nothing else but the man in her life. Allie as well. He is a lunatic who’s rantings and ravings are like that of a drunk throwing a temper tantrum or pleading for something that’s already there, but he cares about people. He wants to give better lives to those around him, whether it’s helping the immigrant workers in the states who live in squalor as if they were slaves or if it’s showing indigenous people of Honduras how to be self-sufficient without living in rags and huts that blow away with every storm.
I enjoyed how complicated of a character study this book is and how it forces you to make decisions about the world and about people as Charlie is making them. While I will say the language of this book is extremely dated, and is therefore uncomfortable at times for that reason, the points made about child labour and sweatshops as well as capitalism killing society as a whole are still incredibly relevant to today.
Starring Harrison Ford alongside Helen Mirren, and with a young River Phoenix as Charlie, the film has a heavy hitting lead cast for the time it was released.
That being said, I felt that as solid the movie is, it misses out on a lot of Allie’s build up to complete insanity by leaving out the key moments that show just how manic he already was. Scenes where he pushes Charlie and manipulates Charlie’s faith in him we’re missing and while I know how difficult some of them would have been to film in the late 80s, I wish they had been kept.
Nitpicking aside, the cast is amazing. All of the people – actors or not – as the people of Honduras were fantastic and the children were all wonderful as well. Seeing a young Helen Mirren was neat as I’m only familiar with her more recent work, but this film makes it clear she’s always been a heavy hitter of an actress. Her love for Allie is so evident while her fears of what he’s capable of comes across even when her dialogue is limited. What I enjoyed best though was seeing Harrison Ford in a role that is entirely different from what he’s most famous for. Everyone knows smart-ass Han Solo. Everyone knows smart-ass Indiana Jones. But was anyone aware he can also be a villain? He is capable of playing a role full of manipulation and control and rage and passion and madness? Looks wise, I knew right away that Harrison Ford was the obvious choice for the role at the time, but seeing him pull it off was amazing. It was like seeing Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire and craving to see more of that evil from such an “all American action hero”.
While watching though, I found myself curious about how River Phoenix felt during filming. Not to turn this into a true crime op-ed or anything, but considering River Phoenix grew up in and was traumatized by the pedophilic cult known as The Children of God, I wonder what went through his mind playing a role of a helpless boy in the middle of nowhere, frightened by his commanding, controlling father. I can’t imagine that was easy for him.
All in all, the movie was worth watching but definitely read the book. Before, after, it doesn’t matter but it’s a phenomenal piece of writing and a fantastic piece of cinema.