"Thus open the gates of paradise."

In this issue

My Son The Fanatic

06 Apr 2002

Sometime this summer, without even realizing it, I think I have turned into some sort of Rachel Griffiths junkie. You may have seen her in "Hilary and Jackie" -- she plays Hilary and was to my mind the most interesting thing about that film. Here she plays -- wait for it -- A Hooker With A Heart Of Gold (or thereabouts) who is friends with an immigrant taxi driver (Om Puri). There's a lot of shortcuts in that last sentence: "immigrant", "hooker", but both are key to the story which touches on the issues of racial intolerance, ethics, and religious fundamentalism. Is it right to be friends with a prostitute? Or rather, is there anything wrong with it? And if you feel that prostitution is a bad thing, then what do you do about it? Is it all right to spit in their faces and lead an angry mob to their homes?

One of the most interesting problems shown in the film was the clash between what we know in the West as "family life" and Islamic fundamentalism. In the former, it's perfectly normal to eat dinner with the entire family; whereas the Islamic sect in the film preferred the men to eat separately from the women. Is one custom better than the other, and as a Westerner, what do you do if you convert to Islam? Is the separation of the sexes a betrayal of the commitments you had previously made to your loved ones?

Meaty questions, those. Questions that the film wisely doesn't try to answer. Nor does it beat the audience over the head with them (Spike Lee, take note.) I said that it showed us these problems, and that's exactly what it does. It shows, it doesn't tell, or preach. Thank you. I am an adult.

Lest you think this a heavy story about religious dogma, I have to tell you it isn't. It's really about Puri's character, a taxi driver whose relationship with the rest of his family, his colleagues, and his friend Bettina (Griffiths) change by degrees. Puri and Griffiths are fabulous, and Stellan Skarsgard does a spot-on job as a German businessman named Schitz (for 10 points, guess his character from his name) whose stay in town is the catalyst for all of the change in the story. But despite all that, I was left wanting just a little bit more. Not much, but something.

Related Sites

My Son The Fanatic (IMDB)