A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 238 – The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – October 24th, 2010

Watching this movie tonight I was put in mind of Emperor Norton. Now, Norton was a real person, but he created a persona and a world around himself where he was the star. And for some reason, people went along with it. His personal currency was accepted by businesses in trade for goods and services. Tens of thousands of people showed up for his funeral. Yes, he was delusional, but there was something about him that made people willing to run with his delusions, at least for a bit. And so we have Baron Munchausen, a real historical figure with a wealth of tall tales built up around him – many of which are apparently at least partially based on tales Munchausen himself told. And in this movie he manages to charm a number of people into believing in him, pulling them along with him for a series of fantastic adventures.

We begin in a theater, with a troupe of players performing a version of Munchausen’s adventures. The city the theater is in is under siege, with the sounds of battle clear from outside. Munchausen himself appears, striding on stage and denouncing the performance before commandeering it to tell his own version. And here is where the movie makes a departure. This is the point where we go from slight magical realism to full-on fantasy. It’s a little difficult to describe, mostly because the ending leaves it to the viewer to decide just how much was real and how much was imaginary and whether it matters in the long run. Because it seems to me that the whole point of it is that the power of one’s imagination is greater than anything else.

Much like in Time Bandits there is a child at the center of this movie. Yes, it’s all about the Baron, but it’s also about young Sally Salt, the daughter of the lead player. Sally is played by a very young Sarah Polley and is the driving force behind much of what happens. She’s determined to save her father and friends and the town and prods the Baron into helping out even when he’s more interested in other pursuits, like sex. Or death. Sally, as the child who hasn’t yet lost her imagination, insists that the Baron not give up. In the movie it’s literal in that the Baron sometimes gets carried away with a woman, or allows himself to be drawn into a game of cards with the grim reaper. But it’s also figurative in that at the beginning Sally demands the rest of the story. And she continues to demand that, even as the story happens around her.

The adventures in the story are suitably outrageous. The Baron and Sally head off out of the town in a hot air balloon made of ladies’ undergarments. They go to the moon, fall into a volcano, get swallowed by a giant fish and eventually – after meeting up with all of the Baron’s old friends – defeat the army besieging the town from the beginning. What’s fascinating about it all is how it begins close to home, in the theater, with a battle raging outside, then travels far away, and then pulls back again. Making things go from realistic, to semi-realistic, to fantastic and then back in reverse. While defeating an army with a small group of elderly adventurers is certainly unlikely at best, traveling to the moon and climbing down from it on a braid of the Queen of the Moon’s hair is an entirely different level of unlikely.

There’s a sort of layered reality going on here. Yes indeed, the town is under siege and ends up saved, with the besieging army mysteriously destroyed. Was it the Baron, who appeared to have been telling a tale all night? Did the act of telling the tale transport everyone in it, putting some of the players into dual roles within the story (like Uma Thurman playing both one of the players and the goddess Venus) and affecting the reality a level below? Or was it something else? The movie doesn’t really bother to tell you. The movie doesn’t seem to want you to know. And the movie doesn’t seem to want you to care. It happened. The how and the why aren’t as important as believing in the story and in the extraordinary.

October 24, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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