Macchars don’t wear sweaters

Midnight Express (1978)

Posted on: February 9, 2007


Midnight Express is based on a true story of an American tourist in Turkey who is arrested for trying to smuggle a small cache of drugs out of the country. He is initially sentenced to 4 years in jail but later the Turkish administration decides to make an example of his case and extends the sentence to 20 years. The movie depicts the gradual dissapation of Billy Hayes from a normal zestful American youngster to a near lunatic in the chaotic jails of Turkey.

Billy gives into the temptation of flirting with danger when he decides to smuggle out a small cache of drugs from Turkey to make a quick buck. But little does he realise the magnitude of the consequences of his seemingly small crime. He gets his first taste of the life to come when he is brutally beaten by his turkish jailer for borrowing a blanket from a neighbouring cell.

This movie, in my opinion, is an expression of the view (fair or unfair), of a man from the West of life in the East. The East is seen as chaotic, uncivilized, and so alien is it from his mode of life, that he can’t even begin to understand it and it borders on the insane and absurd for him. It is also the expression of the seething rage of an individual who sees this world not as a protected onlooker, but is plunged right in thick of it, and faces the full force of its brutal and irrational power. He is out of the reach of familiar protective forces of his country, his embassy, and his parents, once on the wrong side of the bars and is at the mercy of this crazy world.

The movie has a whole set of wonderful performances from Billy Hayes as the protagonist who is sentenced to 30 years in jail, and other western friends he makes in the jail like the time-bomb-waiting-to-expode Jimmy, who is constatnly hatching plans of an escape, the sardonic british drug addict Max who is resigned to life in the jail, Hamoud the brutal and cold jailer, Rifki the jailers pet and the seedy lawyer who constantly squeezing Billy on the pretext of getting him released.

The movie also creates a wonderful dark and decrepit picture (innacurate or accurate) of Turkey with its crumbling buildings, its crowded and chaotic life with its maze of houses, buildings, shops, street vendors, and a sea of humans in the form of seedy looking men, burqa clad women, drug peddlars, dirty children, taxi drivers. The zany psychadelic musical score blends into this setting wonderfully and reinforces this atmoshpere.

Billy’s initial safeguard against this world is the hope of being released after three years, but when even this hope is mercilessly snatched away from him he gradually gives into the claims of this world and dissapates into a near animal. That this world has completely claimed him is expressed in the moment when he flies into a mad and frenzied rage and tears off an ear of Rifki and this also gets him thrown into the lunatic section of the jail.

His ultimate escape is more a stroke of luck that a triumph of the human spirit. But something underneath his crazed and dulled mind eggs him on as he manages to keep his composure as he ambles past the last few guards of the jail to freedom.

Ahhhhh………..only he who has craved freedom so desperately knows its sweetness……..


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