We live in a world that can often times cause us to lose faith in our species – war, violence, political dissonance and public apathy consume our daily lives and are perpetuated through our modern forms of communication. Sometimes we can lose track of what it means to be human, that life is not just the conflict of ideologies and which nation holds the hammer. Sometimes we lose our identity and our culture, Mr. Pip is one such small film that may have fallen under the radar, but it’s a film that should not be disregarded or swept under the rug.
A war rages on in the province of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea; in the centre of the conflict is a small village that is caught between rebel insurgents and the government militia where the only white man left attempts to teach Charles Dickens’ Great expectations to the disenfranchised youth. One girl, Matilda, becomes enthralled by the story and strikes up a deep connection with Pip and her teacher Mr. Watts.
Mr. Pip is a historical drama that can be at times emotionally loaded, it’s not a tear jerker but the visuals can be disturbing. Needless to say, it’s a film that should be experienced by many but will be appreciated by few and if you felt the gravity of films like 12 Years a Slave, then this is an easier pill to swallow.
The Bottom Line
It can be an act of endurance to maintain our humanity in situations that would pull even the most humble and diplomatic individual into the fray of war. Mr. Pip is an uncompromising and at times emotionally taxing experience, but it shines as study of a broken people attempting to grasp onto what remains of their petty rural existence, their livelihoods, their faith, and lastly their culture – not always in that order.
Hugh Laurie delivers his most compelling performance to date with a true auteurship, commanding his character and bending him to his will; it’s a complex and career defining role that displays his virtuosity and grasp of subtlety as an actor. His humble role is understated and restraint at most times but carries the sentiment of warmth and nurturing that only the finest examples of educators possess. The acting of the native cast on the contrary is typically melodramatic and callous and forms a technical disparity between the lead and the supporting cast – there’s an honesty to this, but not of the welcomed variety and reduces some of the more dramatic scenes to a cringeworthy level.
Mr. Pip is a film about the journey of finding courage to stand against ignorance and those that would harm us in the name of power and control, and Andrew Adamson tells this true life story with a remarkably subtle tone, avoiding most genre tropes and playing an emotional game with the audience. Where most Hollywood tales of this nature tend to use a heavy hand, Mr. Pip is an example of storytelling and filmmaking that captures the essence of society in the most troubling of circumstances, and sadly will likely be cinematic treasure that few will experience.