Post Apartheid in South Africa Film Received Much Accolade but Critics Probably Read the Book

Disgrace Doesn’t Fill in Enough Historical Blanks to Convey its True Meaning

Roger Ebert deemed Disgrace a rare movie whose characters are uncompromisingly themselves, flawed, stubborn, vulnerable, and after reading a number of reviews that provide corroborating insight on post Apartheid South Africa, I may agree with all the accolades from numerous critics. But in a real time viewing without reading the book by the same name, the 2008 adaptation proceeds as another day in the life conglomeration of dramatic scenes that goes in search of an ending thread to tie everything together. Looking for something to pull as the credits rolled, my aspiration ended in exasperation.

“What the hell is this movie about,” fell on the deaf ears of the darkened screen and all of the exalted who equate incomprehensible drama to high art.

Nonetheless, John Malkovich definitely delivers as University of Cape Town Professor and instructing young students on the Romantic poets gives him the perfect segue to satisfy his unsavory desires.

Melanie is David Lurie’s latest victim, and so objectionable his partnership, that she takes sleeping pills during the love making. But there’s no indication as to why she proceeds with the relationship.

Still, she is falling victim to a person in authority and when it unfolds, David leaves himself at the mercy of the disciplinary board. “I’m guilty,” he accepts his fate. 

Let the Movie Reviews Begin

Arrogance, according to many movie reviews, but I see it as a man who resigns himself to being a slave to his addiction to the sheer physical beauty of women. This comes across as he remembers how a neighbor’s mutt was promptly beaten at the sight of any female, which silenced the canine’s excitable nature on all future proximities. “What was ignoble about the spectacle was that the poor dog had begun to hate its own nature. It no longer needed to be beaten. It punished itself. At that point it would have been better to shoot it,” David dejectedly draws the analogy to himself.

But there’s no reason to quibble, you’re primed for the whole thing to unravel into an uplifting ending, all encompassing demise or something meaningful in between.

His career now in shambles, the setting moves to the countryside where his daughter Lucy is more easily able to acquiesce to her father’s flaws. The sedate surroundings also seems the perfect place to introspectively exercise a little penance.

In accompaniment Petrus (Eriq Ebouaney) shares the plot and serves as caretaker/partner on the farm cooperative. The living arrangement just doesn’t sit right with David, and I guess if I was smarter, the wounds of apartheid left smoldering below would make David’s concern more justified. But the very non-invasive character, who had previously portrayed Patrice Lumumba, left me wondering, why the big row.

The loss of white privilege that those like David might resent is also left unspoken and leaves the unenlightened such as myself looking for clarification. Roger Ebert helped me out after the fact. “In no sense does David think of himself as a racist and probably always voted against apartheid. But at least it was always there for him to vote against. Now he undergoes experiences that introduce him to an emerging new South Africa and he understands that something fundamental has shifted.”

Black Rage Boils Over (I learn after the fact)

Any contemplation must brushed aside as David is brutally assaulted and his daughter raped by three black assailants. “The rage of the oppressed black majority is at full boil,” reviewed Stephen Holden in The New York Times.

But the film doesn’t seem so certain in its presentation of post apartheid in South Africa. You only get a cryptic sense in Lucy’s reluctance to pursue justice for her attackers. “You don’t understand,” she tells her father indefinitely.

Petrus is also ambiguous and mostly deflects the situation. “It will be ok,” he tries to massage David’s disdain. So you speculate that maybe the former apartheid regime owes them one as a form of reconciliation or reparation. (Or maybe the assailants are just deviants who prey on the vulnerable).

Either way, Petrus doesn’t seethe, and neither does anyone else. So maybe “the past still haunts the present” as Holden says. But the dramatic events all seem isolated without enough context or exposition to provide the insight needed to fully interpret the events.

I must say, though, further understanding from the critics makes me want to read the book, and learn how Post Apartheid in South Africa has been navigated. I bet a film adaptation would make for a pretty good movie too.

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Post Apartheid in South Africa Film Received Much Accolade but Critics Probably Read the Book