Papillon translated into English means ‘The Butterfly ‘. Watching it was exactly like watching a butterfly; it was slow and beautiful. Had it lasted any longer though, the characters portrayed would have died of old age.
The movie is based on Henri Charrière’s identically named novel where he plays himself and is nicknamed ‘Papillon’. Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman) has been convicted of counterfeit and meets Henri ( Steve McQueen) who has been falsely implicated of murdering a pimp, on the boat to Devil’s Island where they are to live out their terms in captivity. Papillon offers Dega protection at the notorious prison island and in lieu wants Dega to finance his escape bid. This barter evolves into friendship, but this metamorphosis is very unclear and it has to be beaten into the viewer’s perspective with sudden acts of heroism in Charriere saving Dega’s life, which is very much in danger at the hands of the many people who had invested in the 1928 national security bonds, and those of the prisoners who are after the money Dega has hidden inside his body. And without Dega’s loud verbal realization the metamorphosis would have been invisible.
There are some aspects of the screenplay which seem very un-staged and draw the viewer into believe in its veracity. Sample this- a prisoner exhausted by the heat faints and falls on a brood of hens which leaves a hen maimed and floundering. Natural but painful screenplay for today’s animal lovers!
As McQueen ages in long years of solitary confinement and loses his charm, you start looking for supporting actors who could make his escape less tiring, where there are none to be found. And to negate the good effects of the screenplay, McQueen, or rather every actor, speaks fluent American English throughout. This made me doubt if French Guinea were actually French colonies or French named-colonies. One of McQueen’s escape attempts lands him into living the comfortable life of a tribesman for awhile, just because the tribal chief wants a tattoo similar to the one McQueen has on his own chest. Captured and back in the confines of the same prison, he plots his next bid.
There are so many failed attempts to escape in a decade of imprisonment that the brain (which has been put through a continuous flow of Charlie Wilson’s War, Seven Pounds and a lot of Family Guy) just wants McQueen to build himself a rocket and fly away to glory. A fatigued me finds sleep soon afterwards.