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October 02, 2014



Monte Hellman - 1988
Raro Video BD Region A

Even though I think it's good that Monte Hellman's cut of Iguana is available, I still feel ambivalent about the film. I don't have any explanation other than that I don't connect with this film as I have with the others, and I have seen most of Hellman's films, the exceptions being Flight to Fury and China 9, Liberty 37. Still, there are things that I missed in a previous viewing on the original DVD release.

What did work for me was when Hellman cut between the character of Oberlus, the sailor with the scaly half face, and Carmen, the woman Oberlus would eventually kidnap to make as his unwilling wife. Oberlus rebels against both the mistreatment received by his fellow sailors, as well as maritime law. Carmen enjoys sexual freedom and rebels against the laws of the Catholic Church. Oberlus escapes from the ship he is on, finding himself on a small island where he proclaims himself king. He discovers a castaway, Sebastian, whom he makes his slave. At one point, Sebastian calls Oberlus a monster. Hellman cuts to Carmen telling a lover that she is not a monster. The characters are ultimately bound by institutionally established rules. Self-created senses of freedom are either short-lived or illusory.

iguana 1.jpg

I do have the nagging feeling that I should be seeing one of Hellman's favorite films, Outcast of the Islands, to have a better sense of what Hellman was aiming for. The Carol Reed film and Joseph Conrad story have some similarities, with a sailor protagonist destroyed by his own arrogance. I am simplifying things here, and Hellman never mentions Reed's film in any interviews about Iguana, but even the couple of video clips I saw of Outcast of the Islands right after seeing Iguana made me think there is some connection.

What did catch me off-guard was the introduction of the Iguana himself, Oberlus. He's first seen in profile, tossing his harpoon at another sailor who has insulted him. When Oberlus is first seen full face, I had to remember that I only imagined what he looks like based on the profile. There is never an explanation for why Oberlus has a disfigured half-face. It doesn't take too much psychological acumen to see Oberlus as a study in a man's dual nature, with the side considered monstrous overwhelming the less frequently seen human side. Without revealing too much, the film ends in a way that can be considered ambiguous, where the final act of Oberlus might be seen as both monstrous and humane.

The Blu-ray comes with a short interview with Monte Hellman, explaining how he got involved in making Iguana, as well as some stories about the production, and the fate of the film upon completion. There is also additional information in the booklet with an interview by Fangoria's Chris Alexander. I'm not sure why it wasn't mentioned, but while the filmography and interview include Avalanche Express, with Hellman completing the work of Mark Robson, who died prior to post-production, there is no mention of The Greatest, with Hellman finishing up for the late Tom Gries.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 2, 2014 06:50 AM