The Year of Living Dangerously
I feel I have a special relationship to this movie. Back in 1982 I had an office on the MGM lot for several months while working with Richard Rush (writer-director of The Stunt Man) on one of the earlier re-writes of Millennium. It was right at the entrance beside the Thalberg building. (You can see my office window in any number of documentaries about the studio, the first door beyond the gate.) So I was sitting there brainstorming with Richard, and a lot of people started coming through, including some very famous faces. Richard said they must be showing up for the world premiere of some movie. He had a couple of tickets, but didn’t plan to go. Would I be interested?
Well, hell, did Louis B. Mayer shit in the woods? Is Mel Gibson Catholic? I was off like a shot, and soon found a seat in the largest theater on the lot, which was quickly filling up with movie people. No less a Big Star than Charlton Heston got up and introduced Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt, and Peter Weir, the director. And we watched this movie, which was well-received.
Afterward we all retired to the fabled MGM commissary, where there were tables heaped with great food, free drinks, and much hob-nobbing. I met Mel and Sigourney and Linda—just long enough to say hi, gee, I loved the picture—and got in the chow line behind Gary Busey as he filled a plate. He really knew how to scarf it up. I had a brief conversation with him. He said he went to these things for the free food. (This was several years before his motorcycle accident.) Art Linkletter breezed in and worked the room for a while. What I mostly remember from that night is that Gibson kept sidling up behind Weaver and standing back-to-back, pretending to measure his 5’9” against her 5’11”. Every time she caught him at it she smacked him one, which he seemed to enjoy.
Okay, that’s my story. On to the review.
It’s a very fine movie about a corner of the world I know very little about. Politically, that is. My sister lived for several years in Indonesia, but that was long after the Sukarno regime. I honestly don’t know if he was a good guy, a bad guy, or like many Third World rulers, a little of both. But it is easy to see human suffering, and there was plenty of that in 1965, when this movie is set. Though the story was sold as a romance between Gibson and Weaver, it is really the story of Billy Kwan, a Chinese-Australian who sees the awfulness and tries to do some good. Naturally, it gets him killed.
The real genius of this movie was the casting of Linda Hunt as Billy. Who would have thought of that? I sure would like to learn just who made that decision, and how. Whatever, it was a stroke of genius. With her dwarfism and rather androgynous features (I just learned that she is a lesbian) it was easy to see her as a small man. And she is by far the most interesting thing about the movie, which is saying something when you have Gibson and Weaver in the cast. She won a well-deserved Supporting Actress Oscar for this role. I am delighted that I got to shake her hand.