Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Hemingway and Gellhorn


First, I in no way take any of this as being historical gospel. I assume that changes were made, as they always are. The incidents showing what a bastard “Papa” could be might have been made up. Having said that, I must say that I believe Ernest Hemingway was the most over-rated writer, and possibly the most over-rated man of the twentieth century. Hardly anyone these days disputes that he was an asshole of cosmic dimensions. But the apologists go on to say that, in spite of that, he was one hell of a writer. I disagree. I’ve tried several times to read him, and have never managed to get through a single book. I’m sure there are millions who disagree with me, and that’s fine. I still think he was over-rated.

Among his other traits were narcissism, egotism, sexism (he wrote the book on that one), a desperate brand of macho, and cowardice. You don’t think the big he-man, slayer of large beasts, killer of big fish, war correspondent, fist-fighter, and bullfight admirer, was a coward? Well, check out the way he checked out, the coward’s way. (Okay, he was probably deeply mentally ill at the time, but still.) He spent his whole life trying to prove to others, and more importantly to himself, that he had the biggest pair of balls in the room.

Now consider the second part of the title, a woman who during her whole life had more balls that Hemingway ever had, and felt no need to prove it. Martha Gellhorn was a true phenomenon. She was pretty much the first female war correspondent, starting with Hemingway in the Spanish Civil War. She then moved on to Finland, where the goddam Russians were trying to take over, and then to Singapore, Czechoslovakia, Burma, and other hellholes. Hemingway not only didn’t want her to go to cover the D-Day invasion, he took her job away from her. So she stowed away as a nurse and stretcher bearer. She was all around the fighting, in danger as much as most of the GIs, and was with the first journalists into Dachau. Hemingway lied about going ashore with the first wave, and was brought up on charges for violating the Geneva Conventions. For this he was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery in 1947. What did Gellhorn get? Fuck all, as far as I know.

The end of the war was the end for Hemingway as a writer, too. Not so with Gellhorn. She covered every goddam conflict there was, from Vietnam to Israel to Central America to our little invasion of Panama. She wanted to go to Bosnia when she was 80, but realized that she was finally a step too slow for that kind of work.

Nicole Kidman is very good here as Gellhorn. Clive Owen is a little less effective as Hem. His American accent doesn’t always quite work, which is unusual for a British actor, who almost always seem to slip effortlessly into any American dialect. The filmmakers are very clever in stretching their budget by integrating the actors right into historical footage, fading to black and white and back into color whenever it’s needed.