Monday, June 15, 2015

Zorba the Greek

Zorba the Greek was made for $750,000 back in 1964. It remains, rightly, the most beautiful story ever filmed of a friendship between two men. No two words about it. I saw it immediately after leaving school; suffice it to say that its impact has still retained with me today. This is not surprising, because Zorba the Greek is a film that should be watched with absolutely no ideology in mind. It is, simply put, as it is: the beauty of human companionship.

The story was adapted from a novel by Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis. I remember reading it, and rereading it. Its message, to be honest, is more philosophic and mumbo-jumbo than the film. But this does not discount the book: its splendor is just as evident. The story, if one looks at it carefully, has been used time and time again by so many movies.

Basil (played by Alan Bates) is your archetypal introvert. He spends his time reading books, contemplating philosophies, and being extremely serious. Down with a severe dose of writer’s block, he travels to Crete to reopen an old lignite mine owned by his late father. Along the way he meets his doppelgänger, in the form of Alexis Zorba (Anthony Quinn), who is everything Basil is not: rapturous, reckless, the eternal optimist. Together they make up the most beautiful friendship ever shown on film.

Along the way, each learns from the other. Well, Basil learns more from Zorba than Zorba does from Basil. He learns, for instance, how to love – and how to face disappointment when his love, after being conquered, is killed by a group of villagers. He learns how to look at the darkest of life’s troubles with glee and hope. So much so that, at the end, when all his hopes and aspirations literally topple down, and he is left with no other choice than to return to England (his place of birth), all he asks of his satyr-like friend is: “Teach me to dance”.

This leads to doubtlessly one of the most inspiring of endings from any movie you can every watch. We see the two of them dancing away. They know that they are on the brink of separation: that they may never see each other again. Yet, for one instant at least, they forget all that and dance. The camera slowly pans away, and we look at the two of them, dot-like figures in the distant, as they rhythmically dance away their troubles.

What could all this mean? Is it merely the simple thesis that life is meant to be enjoyed? That, as Zorba puts it, “a man needs to be mad, or else he never dare cut the rope and be free”? I think there’s something more to it, but dash it all, I couldn’t care less. It’s an inspiring story for all to see, and one that touches on the most wonderful aspect of human life: the beauty of eternal companionship. Zorba and Basil may have separated in flesh, but certainly not in spirit. Zorba’s brotherliness, after all, is not much different from (some of) your closest friend(s). Watch Zorba the Greek, and you shall see life gushing out at you, in every shot and sequence. I am not bluffing.