April 15, 2024

Mr. Pip” (2012) is a surrealist portrait of the Bougainville civil war.
The mining of valuable copper in Bougainville led to armed conflict between the island’s residents, who formed the Bougainville Revolutionary Amy, and the Papua New Guinean government, who had a stake in the Bougainville copper mines. The fighting cost the lives of around 10,000 people between 1988 and 1998.
Director Andrew Adamson’s film, based on the 2006 novel “Mister Pip” by Lloyd Jones, takes place just after Papua New Guinea blockaded the island of Bougainville. A girl named Matilda (Xzannjah Matsi) and her mother Dolores (Healesville Joel) are struggling to survive without the usual imports of medicine and food.
The last white person left in Matilda’s village is Tom Watts, played by “House, M.D.” star Hugh Laurie, an eccentric man who won’t leave the island because he is married to a Bougainville native named Grace (Florence Korokoro). Watts becomes the village school teacher and starts reading “Great Expectations” to the children. Matilda becomes fixated on the classic novel and begins to imagine herself in the world of the story. Her imagination helps her survive the tragic events that ensue in the second half of the film. The movie’s most graphic moments mercifully occur just off-screen, but that doesn’t lessen their impact.
“Mr. Pip” has so many layers that it is easy to miss some of the more intricate details. Matilda’s story has many parallels to “Great Expectations.” Matilda’s eventual immigration to Australia to live with her father, and her conflicted feelings about her new comfortable life mirror Pip’s transition from peasant to English bourgeois elite. Both characters also have to confront the shame they feel about where they came from and have to learn to cope in different ways.
Matilda’s dream sequences are some of highlights of the film. The characters and world of “Great Expectations” are brought to life in Matilda’s imagination. Their clothing is a beautiful mix of Victorian style and bright tropical island colors that highlight just how universal a truly great story can be.
The film was shot on location in Papua New Guinea, an island nation just north of Australia. It provides a stunning backdrop that never looks like a movie set and makes the film that much more real for the viewer.
“Mr. Pip” is a difficult film, but it is worth a watch as long as you keep in mind that it is first and foremost a war film.

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