Sunday, April 14, 2013

Silent Sundays: White Shadows in the South Seas (1928)



“They are like man was before he lost the Garden of Eden.”

            White Shadows in the South Seas is about imperialism and how the white man feels superior to those he conquers. 
            The film begins on an island that over time has been “civilized” by greedy westerners. Dr. Matthew Lloyd lives on the island. He used to be respectable doctor but has become indecent because he is ashamed of what the white race has done to the natives. Some of the natives dive for clams. What they do is very dangerous. Many of them have died from burst veins and lungs from the pressure change. There are also sharks and other large sea creatures. Matthew is called a native coddler. He helps a man with collapsed lungs but unfortunately the man dies. The father of the dead man says he has lost all his sons the same way.
            Someone tells Matthew there is a ship out in the middle of the ocean that has sick people on it. When he gets out there he sees that most of the crew are dead not from measles but from the plague. He says the ship will have to be burned. The men attack Matthew, tie him up, and set the ship to sail. The ship heads into a typhoon. Matthew tries desperately to steer the ship away from rocks. He manages to jump and swim to land. He sees a hut on the other side of the island. He finds a whole native village untouched by white men. When Matthew approaches them they all scatter away. The men of the village are summoned to capture Matthew. The men gather around him, they have never seen a white man before. As the natives examine him, Matthew collapses from thirst and exhaustion. He is attended to by some of the women. One of the women is Fayaway. They massage him to take away his ache.
            The villagers see Matthew as a god and they prepare a great feast for him. He speaks with Fayaway alone and is immediately attacked by the men. An elder tells him that he cannot look at her with love in his eyes even if he is a god because she is a virgin of their temple. The next day Fayaway takes Matthew around the island. They hear a signal that the sea has taken someone’s life. It is a little boy who is in trouble. Matthew tries to save him. At first he is unsuccessful then he remembers what to do and saves his life. The elder says that now Matthew has saved his son and he may look into the eyes of Fayaway. White man and native are soon married.
            Matthew sees they do not collect pearls. His selfishness of his race and greed take over. One of the natives notices that Matthew goes around the lagoon looking for pearls. That night he sets fire to some leaves on the shore hoping ships will see it and come for his pearls. Fayaway asks him if he wants to leave. He realizes he has made a terrible mistake and gets mad at himself he does not want the ships to come. In the day time ships start coming ashore. Matthew tries to warn the villagers the boat is evil it will bring them woe. One of the crew members says they spotted the fire on the mountain the night before. The captain sees a girl wearing a pearl on a necklace. Now the greedy man wants to stay. The villagers think the other white men will be nice like Matthew. The captain is a man named Sebastian that Matthew knew on the other island. Matthew pleads with Sebastian to leave. He gets mad when Sebastian says he wants to open a store and have the villagers dive for pearls. One of Sebastian’s men shoots Matthew and the poor man dies.
            In the end all the villagers become “civilized.”
            I thought Shadow in the White Seas was good but very sad. In school when we learned about imperialism I would always get a little upset and mad how white men just went into lands they thought “uncivilized” and “civilized” the natives. Just because a group of people does not wear or practice something that you do does mean they are uncivilized. The people thinking this are uncivilized. W.S. Van Dyke directed the film. The more I see of his films the more I take notice of how good and creative he was. None of his films I have seen so far have been the same. Some of shots of the islands and the “natives” were beautiful. They reminded me of a Gaugin painting. I loved the feast scene, the food looked amazing! Shadow in the White Seas is definitely working watching.