Sunday, February 11, 2024

Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose (2023).

I can't recall how I wound up learning about this movie.  All I can say for sure is that it was one of those "By Accident" situations that happen more or less all the time.  I might have stumbled across this by accident in the course of reading an otherwise unrelated article on a Media Entertainment website, somewhere.  Or else I stumbled upon it as a banner advertisement on IMDB, or a similar place like that.  In fact, now that I stop and think it over, the way it happened was this.  I was on YouTube and looking for some other video, and a trailer for this film either popped up as an add by pure chance, or else I saw the title of the film with it's main star, Simon Pegg in the thumbnail, and that was enough to catch my interest.  I think the reason for wanting to give this film a chance comes down to two factors.  The first was that Christopher Lloyd was featured in a supporting role.  In other words, the film was advertised as some kind of supernatural, paranormal mystery thriller, and Doc Brown was going to be a part of it.  I suppose it makes me look kind of stupid, considering that my immediate reaction was more or less, "Sign me up"!  My only defense for this reaction is the second factor that got my attention.  Neil Gaiman was touted as playing a key role as a mischievous prankster spirit.  I had to see what the final results were like.  And so, that was how I wound up learning about this peculiar anomaly of a film.

The Story.

Nandor Fodor (Pegg) is best described as one of life's more interesting case studies.  He's the kind of person who tends to fit in among the more eccentric aspects of life was we claim to know it.  There's not much in the way of personal details to learn about him, except perhaps for a few basics.  He was born in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1895.  He seems to have been the product of a Lower Middle Class Jewish household.  There's very little information about his parents.  Though considering the xenophobia of the times, it's not too out of bounds to speculate that one of the reasons the Fodors might not have been able to rise to a higher station in life all stems from the simple reason that the antisemitic social codes and mores of his society wouldn't allow them any such merit.  Even if we go along with this line of pure speculation, young Nandor seems to have made out alright for himself.  He made a successful study for a career in Law at the University of Hungary in Budapest.  He passed with all the right credentials, and he was good enough at the job to the point where, presuming both World War I and (in particular) II had never happened, he might have had an ordinary life as a legal eagle.

Instead, the era of the collapse of the Great World Empires began, and with it came all the desperate saber rattling that endangered the lives of Budapest's Jewish population.  Besides which, even if he'd been permitted to live a normal life, there might still have been this lingering restless streak in Fodor's character that just wouldn't permit him to sit still in such a humdrum profession.  There seems to have been a great deal of the Romantic in his makeup.  It didn't just make Fodor anxious to see and explore the world, it's also what made him decide to pull up roots and move to America.  This is a choice that might have broken his father's heart.  Before his son left, he told Fodor that it was most likely they would never see each other again.  Nandor made his way eventually to New York, were he did a stint as a journalist.  This was yet another profession that he seems to have been pretty good at it, because it lasted a good deal longer than his time as a lawyer.  Now, here is the part where the details of the life become a bit too sketchy for any exact accounting.  The best I can give here is more speculation.

While it seems impossible to be certain, my hunch is that it was his stint as a journalist that more or less served to propel Fodor on towards his final profession.  It was also the situation that would make into a minor public celebrity.  My best guess estimate is that while serving as a beat reporter on the streets of NYC, Fodor was always being giving snippets of the colorful local folklore that makes up a good chunk of the legends of the Big Apple.  In particular, it seems that tales of local haunted spots and twilight lanes grabbed Fodor's imagination enough to make him wonder if it was possible to take something like a genuine professional interest in this kind of Unexplained material.  The second big event that appears to have moved Fodor onwards is the initial cultural impact and celebrity acclaim that came about when the profession of clinical psychology made its first great impact on public consciousness.  It sounds strange in a day when such medical practices are taken for granted.  What has to be remembered is this wasn't necessarily the case at the dawn of the 20th century.  When Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were able to publish their first major works in the field of studying the mind, it came as something of a revelation to the world that the inner life of the mind was a determining factor in the way people lived.

For all intents and purposes, the reveal and interpretation of dreams, and even the bringing to self-awareness of all the varying personal vantage points with which we are seemingly forced by existence itself to both observe and then try to interpret our lives was nothing less than the unveiling a whole other world  most of us were unaware of until that time.  It was and remains, in the truest sense of the world, a genuine milestone in human self-discovery.  Fodor was as hooked on this new-old science as he was on tales of ghostly visitations.  It appears to have been the combination of these two experiences that seems to have led Fodor to something like the following train of thought.  Was it at all possible to combine these two enthusiasms at once?  The fact that even the belief in ghosts, and things that go bump in the night has to qualify in the last resort as a psychological phenomenon is an observable fact of life that doesn't seem to have been lost on Fodor.  So, once more taking chance in his hands, Fodor quit his beat as a New York journalist, and managed to remake himself as a medical psychologist, with a special interest in the field of exploring areas mapped out under the heading of the paranormal.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this final stage of Fodor's life is that not only was he a success at this last chosen profession, he was considered good enough at it to become one of Freud's own drinking buddies and confidants.  It may just be possible to claim that this proves the old saw about perseverance paying off in the end.  Fodor's particular specialty was the studying of paranormal phenomenon being the result of psychological maladies, such as neurosis and mental imbalance.  At the same time, he appears to have been one of life's natural born seekers.  He was always on the lookout for anything like actual, clenching proof of an Otherworld.  Then one day, a fellow paranormal investigator Harry Price (Christopher Lloyd) brought Nandor's attention to what has to be the most peculiar case of poltergeist activity that anyone has ever known.  It is here that the second aspect of this story comes into play.

Located somewhere on the Isle of Man is a little farm owned by a family going by the name of Irving.  There's the father, James (Tim Downie), his wife Margaret (Ruth Connell), and their daughter Voirrey (Jessica Balmer).  They live on a comfortable working class estate in the village of Dalby.  It's rustic, and while there have been struggles in the past, the family has been able to make a decent enough living for themselves on the farm.  This just leaves us with someone who might be described as the final "family member" left to discuss.  His name is Gef (voiced by award winning Fantasy author Neil Gaiman; yes, really).  Gef is perhaps best described as an even greater eccentric than Fodor himself.  To start with, he appears to be an ordinary seeming Indian Mongoose.  This in and of itself needn't be so out of the ordinary, especially if the family is keeping such an animal as a household pet.  The catch is that the Irving family claims Gef isn't their pet.  Instead, he's more like a barely glimpsed presence flitting round and about the house and farm lands were you least expect him to show up.  Also, they claim that Gef can talk.  He's also (or at least so says Mr. Irving) not a real Mongoose, no matter how he chooses to appear to mere mortals.  He's an Earth Spirit who inhabits and haunts the family farm.  Armed with all of this "information", Fodor embarks on the most peculiar investigation of his career.

Conclusion: A Premise No One Can Have Fun With.   

The strangest thing about this film is that most of the details given in the synopsis above is true.  Except for the part about the talking Mongoose, of course.  The general conclusion reached long ago was that the figure of Gef was an invention of Voirrey Irving.  She was a typical bored teenager in a small, rural, island farming community, with little prospects for the immediate future, and her creation of this talking, animal Earth Spirit was her own, nascent way of rebelling from a situation she couldn't wait to be rid of.  Then things got out of hand, and she found herself being used by the very parents that birthed and raised her to profit off of her fantasies for her own gain.  In retrospect, we seem to have been dealing with the case of a girl who probably should have moved away from home the first legal chance she could have got, and then see what kind of future she could make for herself.  I almost want to say that Voirrey Irving would have done better to have taken her imaginative creation, and try and make a legitimate children's book out of it, because that's most logical creative scenario she had on her hands.

Instead, a combination of factors boiling down to an assemblage of poor character leading to even worse personal choices resulted in the Irvings using their daughter for their own selfish reasons.  With the worst part being that Voirrey just doesn't appear to have had the kind of personal strength required to stand up for herself.  Everything about her tells me we are dealing with one of those postwar girls who could have been a herald of the upcoming 1950s Counterculture.  However, her story became one of drive, daring, and even potential artistic talent stifled by the confines of her own small community.  In many ways, its kind of sad when you think about it.  The worst part is all that the outside world ever saw or knew of this personal drama for the longest time was just some local legend of a ghostly Mongoose haunting a family farm somewhere in Britain.  The real behind the scenes story as I've just outlined is enough to help generate a maybe interesting film scenario in its own right.  Something very much like a classic Angry Young Woman story, with a slight element of the fantastic added into the mix.  Instead, what we got was Simon Pegg hunting down a fleeting specter in the countryside.

Now, to be fair, even this kind of a scenario might have been able to work.  The trick is, for that to happen, the artist has to be willing to put all the imaginative investment and commitment a story like this needs in order for all of its Fantasy elements to work.  The sad truth, however, is that this is none of what we've got as a final result.  The key term that describes this entire film is: Unimaginative.  This is the last possible result anyone should be striving for in a film like this.  A bare-bones synopsis suggests the kind of narrative idea that is so fanciful that it flat out demands to be taken with just the right amount of whimsy, mystery, and maybe even fear in all the right doses.  The basic premise at the heart of director Adam Sigul's picture sounds very much, in fact, like the kind of scenario that any reader could expect to find waiting for them within the pages of a Neil Gaiman short story collection.  

Perhaps this explains what on Earth the author of the Sandman comics is even doing there.  The plot does sound like the kind of story Gaiman might take a fancy to writing down, when set in outline.  A remote setting in the British countryside which plays host to visits from a Puckish fantastical being does sound very much like the type of story you would expect Gaiman to write.  It's even possible to wish he had written the film's screenplay.  That at least might have resulted in a more usable setup.  Something that would have grabbed out attention right from the start, and then held our minds up to the final reel.

Instead, Gaiman elects to remain in the background and not speak up except for whenever the script calls for him to.  As a result, the film has no real choice except to suffer from a lack of any genuine creative input.  We're left to follow Pegg's version of Fodor around as he traipses through one gloomy setting after another on a literal wild goose chase.  One of the immediate problems the film has in all of these moments is that it forces a talented actor to get stuck playing an almost cardboard cutout figure.  

The character of Fodor, as written by Sigal's script is someone who almost seems bewildered to have even been called onto the stage in the first place.  His action and dialogue cues all paint this character who seems monumentally bored and uninterested in the things happening around him.  That is the worst possible note to keep playing in a story like this.  Everything about the script telegraphs that it's meant to be the story of this lonesome seeker in a moment of existential crisis, where he's teetering between doubt and holding on to some hope that there can be answers given from the Great Beyond.  The scenario might not be anything all that original, as set down on paper, all the fictional Fodor ever does is follow in a long line of a Romantic seekers that are a veritable standby of the Gothic genre.

As such, Pegg's character in this film is best described as a common trope.  To be fair, this is not a problem, in and of itself.  We may have seen this character before, even if the face always keeps changing.  The thing to keep in mind is that we've also seen this trope put to good use in the past.  Some excellent examples include Luke Skywalker, Lewis Carroll's Alice, and Peter S. Beagle's Last Unicorn.  The difference between these previous incarnations and Fodor is that each of the other three can be considered reasonably well written for the most part.  The figure of Nandor, however, can never manage to come alive off the page.  Instead, all Sigul can give us is this bland, aimless personality that is just sitting around, getting drunk, and waiting for his assigned plot cues.  The last thing any good writer should do is let the audience know that he can't quite figure out what to do with his main cast.  It creates the impression that he either doesn't really know how to handle his material, or else that there's not real story worth telling.  This seems to be the unfortunate case here.  When the plot gets rolling, Pegg's character is left being dragged around from one moment after another in which very little of interest winds up happening.  The vast majority of the film is Fodor being led on a series of guided tours around the farm and countryside, being shown artifacts and evidence, while he just looks bored with it all.

The worst part is it's difficult to tell who is at fault here, the actor or the director.  The most likely answer is that the relative lack of proper narrative has left a gaping void where the actor's motivation should be, and so both he and the final product have no choice except to suffer the inevitable consequences of artistic laziness.  Pegg is aware that the script really doesn't give him anything to do, and so it's sort of like he has no other option except to phone it all in.  If I had to single out any performances that are able to stand out during this whole affair, then some credit will probably have to go to Lloyd and Gaiman.  Doc Brown is nothing if not a consummate grand old professional.  Even if the script doesn't amount to much, his line readings as Harry Price are able to instill Lloyd's impeccable emotional range into the character, making for an interesting few minutes in what is otherwise a simple infodump moment of plot exposition.  As the seldom seen figure of Gef, meanwhile, Gaiman seems to be well aware of the other levels of creative potential to be unearthed in such an essentially fantastical character and premise.  As a result, one gets the sense that the author is allowing this awareness to channel a greater impression of fun and play into what is an otherwise drab and lifeless affair.  The trouble is these relative moments of creativity aren't enough to lift the film out of itself.

This movie suffers from at least three interlinked problems.  The first is that it lacks Imagination.  I think Dennis Harvey is the critic who addressed this issue best in his Variety review.  "Any movie about a talking-mongoose-related historical incident should offer a bonanza of strangeness, at the very least. But this nice-looking, low-key, talky little film seems hesitant to embrace that or any other quality (web)".  This, in turn, creates the film's second problem.  There's a pretty clear lack of energy on display in this show, and the worst part is some of it seems to have worked its way into the performance of the story's main lead.  Simon Pegg is one of those actors who can turn in a great performance at the drop of a hat.  What this movie reveals, however, is that first he needs to have the proper motivation for it, and here he's stuck with a script that just won't give it to him.  So it's no real wonder if, after giving it some thought, all Pegg can do is just give an inward shrug and then plod through what he seems to know is a pretty unrewarding scenario.  The final problem of this film is it's lack of focus in what it wants to say.

Once more, this is where Harvey's words give the best judgement on the ultimate, overall flaw of the proceedings.  "There’s certainly the raw material here for a smart, singular mix of satire and whimsy, or whatever Sigal had in mind. But his intentions have grown as unpinnable as Gef somewhere along the line. The film can’t seem to decide how comedic, or mysterious, or suspenseful it wants to be, settling on some tepid in-between point that elicits no particular response, laughter included. It might’ve worked if we understood Sigal wanted Gef to be all things to all people: fraudulent, magical, maybe a necessary reminder of life’s wonders either way. But that kind of ball-spinning stunt can’t function when the movie barely seems capable of picking up the ball, conceptually (ibid)".  To be more specific, as the action carries on, it begins to look as if things are meant to build toward some kind of fantastical existential encounter between the protagonist and the titular Mongoose.  The plot seems to be trying to focus in on a nebulous personal crisis that Pegg's character is going through.  The addition of Gef is initially highlighted as a kind unexplained factor, or rather a hole in the otherwise solid wall of reality through which supernatural energies are able to manifest.  The implication here is that Fodor is on a collision course towards some kind of fundamental meeting with this Earth Spirit in search of answers.

So, in other words, the basic idea that Sigal appears to be at least trying to reach for is the same type of setup as you tended to get on old TV shows like the The X Files.  This fictional version of Fodor is a mixture of Mulder and Scully's belief systems melded together, with Gef as the Monster of the Week who could hold answers to unlocking at least some of the greater mysteries of life.  As Harvey, points out, this could be the building block of a potentially good idea.  In sounds, in fact, very much like the kind of story Neil Gaiman himself would write.  However, the fatal flaw that Sigal commits as a director is his seeming refusal to bring the crisis at the heart of his film to anything like a solid, definitive point.  All that happens is Fodor has a hard time tracking down Gef, which makes him get drunk and cause a scene on the Irving's farm.  This gets him arrested, and while he's languishing in his cell, he hears Gef's voice taunting him from just out of his line of sight.  Fodor begs for some sign of the creature's reality, and he gets scratch marks on the back of his hand for his troubles.  At first, it looks as if this scene is meant to play out as some quiet moment of epiphany for the character.  Yet it then transitions back to a denouement between Fodor and Price where nothing is ever settled on.

That's where the movie ends, and where my patience with this film sort of ran out.  The ultimate problem is that the director can't decide either what kind of story it is he's telling, or even if there's any particular point worth arriving at.  I'm afraid I'm going to have to side with Dennis Harvey on this in believing that such an approach just doesn't leave much for the Imagination of either the artist or the audience.  So far as I've been able to figure it out, what we've got here is a simple case of the director running up against his own limitations as a storyteller.  Sigal may have a good eye for cinematography, lighting, setup, and mood.  Whatever his talents may be as a screenwriter, however, I'm starting to wonder if a Neil Gaiman type fairy tale is a form that he's well suited to.  If he ever started out this journey with a sense of hope and ambition, the director seems to have hit a snag somewhere along the way when he realized he's painted himself into a corner.  As the story developed, the nature of the plot seems to have evolved into the tale of one man's search for answers from any possible Great Beyond.  This type of story might be able to work, provided the storyteller knows what they are doing.  Sigal demonstrates that it was this particular narrative hook that he got stuck on, with no seeming way out.

He might have wanted to make a simple, charming ghostly tale, and instead found himself treading into waters that were a bit too heady for his meager talents.  The telling part in all of this is the implication that the director never seems to have planned on this happening.  It's more a case of a swimmer straying too far out of the safety zone, and then finding himself caught up in a current he didn't even seem to know was there.  Neil Minow writes that "This film is in conversation with existential issues of meaning and with contemporary concerns about the failures of institutional authority, though is not always clear what he wants us to think about it (web)".  I think the reason for that goes as follows.  Even if Minow's claim is true, then the punchline reason for the film's lack of clarity most likely stems from the fact that these were all conversations and ideas that the filmmaker never meant to raise or get drawn into in the first place.  The story just got out of hand, and he was left with no clear idea of where things should go, or most importantly, how to end it.  That's pretty much the kiss of death for any story, no matter how much potential or talent its got as a creative concept.  This lack of conceptual clarity is what forces Sigal to basically throw up his hands in a cop-out conversation between Lloyd and Pegg which seems designed to try and please everybody by remaining inconclusive.  All it does is just tick people off.

The issue with films centered around a personal crisis is that they tend to work best when the conflict in question is brought first to a point, then followed by a definitive resolution.  This is something guys like Shakespeare of Scorsese knew by instinct when they made works like Othello or Raging Bull.  It's one of the unspoken maxims of dramatic development that Adam Sigul should have kept in mind as he was composing the screenplay, and yet his own inexperience got the better of him.  This is a shame, because it really does seem as if there could have been plenty of room to develop such a quirky premise into a genuinely good entertainment that could have drawn audiences in.  I can see at least two ways in which this could have worked.  The first is to tighten up the plot, and make more of an isolated character study.  You could take the fictional version of Fodor and have things work out so that the remainder of the film is just him alone out in the barren, English coastal countryside.  He ostensibly goes out there to hunt down the "Mongoose", yet the further he goes on, clearer it is that he becomes lost.  Fodor tries to hold his wits together, but then the isolation, hunger, and fatigue start to get to him, and then things break down to the point where its unclear if the protagonist is hallucinating, or is seeing real phantoms.

This would all culminate with a moment in which Fodor and Gef would actually be allowed to confront each other face to face.  The key for writing a scene like this is finding out the right way to make an audience go along with a scene that is flat out ridiculous the moment you give it a few moments consideration.  The idea of a grown man conversing with a Mongoose like its an actual, human like person is just one of those ideas that leaves you asking whoever came up with such an idea to "Get serious".  So long as you want to play such a confrontation in a straightforward dramatic light, the only logical way to make an audience go along with such a premise is to make sure that the deck is stacked in its favor.  The way you do that, at least so far as I can tell, is to mentally prepare the viewer for this final showdown by surrounding it with as many of the appropriate weird moments as possible.  In other words, don't require a character like Gef to try and carry the whole weight of the film on his shoulders.  Instead, you dole out the proper amount of surreality throughout the narrative.  If you give the audience just enough crazy absurdist touches throughout the rest of the picture, then the moment when the fictional version of Fodor confronts Gef out in the wilderness will seem normal by comparison

From there, both figures can have a bit of a meaningful, philosophic moment in the vein of Samuel Beckett.  This creature that looks like a talking Mongoose can dispense with whatever sage advice is necessary to help Nandor get over his crisis, before vanishing into the shadows of the night, leaving the main character to be rescued from the wilderness by a search party, with maybe one final parting shot to leave us wondering if the entire conversation with Gef was just a hallucination on the protagonists part, or if maybe, perhaps, he really did gain a new outlook on life with the help of a genuine, elvish nature spirit straight out of Celtic folklore.  Bear in mind, this is just a script doctor style saving throw for if you ever wanted to stick with the outline the Sigal gives to his audience.  It's not the same as saying it's the only way you could tell this story.  In fact, so far as I'm concerned, there is a much stronger version of this narrative that could have been told, and which we  never got for the reasons outlined above.

To my mind, a better way to take the character of Gef the Talking Mongoose, and make him the focus of a story would be to turn in him into a character in a legitimate Neil Gaiman work.  This alternate version would go in a different way as follows.  For one thing, Nandor Fodor would be gone as the protagonist.  In his place, the main character would be that of young Voirrey Irving.  The plot would also begin some time earlier to start off with, when she's just a little girl of about seven or eight.  We'd begin with a few slice-of-life snapshots that detail the humdrum daily routines of Voirrey's on the family farm.  Her parents are loving and supportive of their daughter, yet it's clear that their quiet, sedentary life is already starting to pale for her.  Already Voirrey shows signs of being a restless soul.  Her greatest wish is to be able to leave the farm and strike out on her own, as soon as possible.  The trouble is her parents always make just enough to get by as farmers, meaning that they can't even afford enough to let her attend any of the better schools back on the mainland.  In fact, it also soon becomes apparent that unless fate or whatever smiles on them with a bit of financial luck, Voirrey will never be able to attend any of the types of higher educational institutions that she might hope to achieve.

An awareness of this predicament has begun to seep into the young girl's awareness as the story opens, and it's like seeing her hopes and dreams crushed in an instant.  Without much in the way of the future prospects except perhaps that of farming or shopkeeping, and no immediate way forward, Voirrey has already begun to act out when we first meet her.  She's gotten into fights with the local kids in her area, gaining a reputation as a stuck up brat who likes to think she's better than everyone else, and is accused of "getting above her station", as the saying was back then.  This penchant for troublemaking leads her to receiving numerous timeouts from her parents, and often the little girl winds up having to be sent to her room.  Her one refuge in this entire situation is her vivid imaginative life, along with a nascent sense of budding artistic talent.  Voirrey show abilities of being a very talented illustrator, being able to draw pictures of scenes from her favorite children's books with a natural and impressive skill.  It's the one solace her otherwise restless mind is able to find for itself in a situation that is stifling.  Pretty soon she is able to find a private victory of her own when her Imagination takes a leap forward, of sorts.

One day it occurs to Voirrey to see if she can't draw pictures of make-believe creatures and characters that she's never seen before.  To her own amazement (and vague sense of relief that she's not quite mature enough yet to appreciate) she succeeds in creating her own imaginary characters.  These are figures either drawn from the half heard tales and legends of the Fair Folk that she's heard growing up as a farm girl in the English countryside, or else they are original figments thrown up by her own unconscious.  One day Voirrey is in her room, doodling in an idle frame of mind.  As she lets her mind wander, she soon learns to her own surprise that her scribbles are beginning to organize themselves into yet another character drawing.  This is something she notes with curiosity, and then mentally stands back and watches as she lets her own skilled hands do the talking.  It doesn't take long before she sees an actual figure begin to emerge from from her initial rough sketches.  When the picture is done Voirrey realizes that she seems to have created the drawing of a Mongoose, clear out of the blue.  The one distinguishing feature of this drawing is the mischievous look in his gaze, like that of a sharp-eyed trickster.  As Voirrey studies her work, she can't help but notice the charm of the figure she's drawn.

He looks like the kind of person who you could share all your innermost secrets with.  The kind of of personality, in other words, who could understand why you felt the need to play hooky from school one day, or why you have to give that young punk Donnelly kid from town a piece your mind for trying to talk smack about you and your parents.  There's a look about this Mongoose that says he knows what it's like to cause a little mischief, while also being willing to lend a sympathetic ear to little kids who often find themselves in trouble with grown-ups.  "I'm the kind of guy you can bring your own troubles to," is what his eyes seem say.  "Trust me, I know.  I've been there".  For the first time ever, Voirrey finds herself being charmed with her handiwork.  Being only a child, the best way she can express this knowledge is, "What a funny looking little fellow.  Hello.  I wonder what your name is"?  Almost as if waiting for her to ask this question, a voice in her head answers back.  " 'Allo, then.  My name's Jeff!  'Ooo're you"?  "My name's Voirrey", the little girl thinks to herself, "pleased to meet you".  "Voirrey", the drawing seems to reply, "what a funny name.  'Ow do ya spell it".  She says she still doesn't know just quite yet.  They've only begun the art of spelling at her own school.  She's eager to learn, though  When the Mongoose asks if she wants to spell his name Voirrey proves this by printing out G-E-F.

"Yeah, well", Gef replies, "I guess that'll 'ave to do for a start".  From there, the narrative would essentially become one of a piece with the types of fiction that Gaiman is famous for.  Specifically, this version of Gef the Talking Mongoose would become the make-believe fourth entry in an otherwise very real trilogy of Fantasy stories the author has written exploring the powers and limitations of childhood and young adult memory.  So far as I can tell, these works include Violent Cases, Mr. Punch, and The Ocean at the End of the Land.  Each of these works feature protagonists struggling to recall impactful or influential moments in their lives when something of consequence happened.  These characters often remain unclear as to just what it was that happened, or why it was so important.  They just know that once upon a time, for a moment or two, they came as close as they ever would to understanding some kind of significant truth about the world, and now they can longer quite remember what that was.  Often these moments of significance are centered around the former child's relationships with the adult world.

These are often revealed to the audience by subtle hints in the narration that an grown-up authority figure winds up revealing that they are just as much lost in the woods as either Hansel, Gretel, or the even the narrator himself.  All of the Memory Trilogy stories center around children learning just how flawed adults and the grown-up world can be.  This often involves the former children at the heart of each narrative often getting caught up in dark subject matter, and sometimes coming very close to being collateral damage.  The curious part is how each tale suggests that none of these struggles has done anything to dampen the protagonist's sense of awe and wonder when confronting the world.  

Another Gaiman story that this imaginary fanfic version of Gef takes after is the children's book known as The Wolves in the Walls.  That's another story in which the frustrations of a having to put up with a troubled home life is externalized in the title creatures bursting out of the nooks and crannies of an otherwise normal suburban home.  In effect, this alternate version of Gef would act as a somewhat more benign version of either the Wolves or Mr. Punch.  He's the figure who's either always there whenever Voirrey needs a shoulder to cry on, or a willing and sympathetic ear to talk to.  He can also sometimes be the voice whispering in her left ear to act out and cause trouble for her folks.  This could all culminate in Voirrey blurring the lines between reality and make-believe, where even she begins to wonder if Gef might be a real Earth Spirit disguised as a Mongoose who is haunting her family.  

All of this would be told from the unreliable perspective of Voirrey herself, as a grown woman.  Like the rest of Gaiman's memory stories, the reader would always be left at the mercy of a storyteller who has a hard time remembering exactly what happened to them when they were a child.  The tone of the piece would be a hybrid one.  There would be moments when the events of the past would be tinged with the misty haze of childhood nostalgia.  There would also come moments where things are able to take a darker, Gothic turn.  In Gaiman's Memory trilogy, the two modes of Terror and Enchantment are often never at odds, and always tend to be working in partnership to help drive the narrative.  That same dynamic would have to be in play here.  The idea would be to make a story that suggests the same haunted yet childlike tone as a moment in Mr. Punch where the protagonists attends a masquerade play version of Kenneth Graham's Wind in the Willows.  After the play, the main character contemplates what it might be like to place the papier-mace Badger's head on his shoulders: "then I would have become the badger.  A tiny, stumbling thing with a huge head, uttering vast truth's I dared not think as a child".  That's the tone this fanfic would have, and the role Gef should take for Voirrey herself.   

It would all culminate, however, on something of a triumphant note.  As the adult Voirrey concludes her story, we'd learn that she's taking her first big step off the Isle of Man, and that she is due to meet with people in London who might be willing to listen to her pitch for a maybe publishable children's book.  As she takes her leave of the audience, one of the final panels of this never-to-be graphic novel would show us a glimpse of the mock-up cover of the finished manuscript.  It should come as no surprise that it's the very first picture that Voirrey made of her long ago (not so?) imaginary friend.  The title of the potential book reads: Gef: The Talking Mongoose.  The figure on the cover should appear to be winking at us.  That, at any rate, is what a much better, more well put together draft of this movie should or could have been like.  As things stand, we're left with something else.  At the end of the day, Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose is the kind of film that winds up a victim of the artist's shortcomings.  It's always possible that tucked away within the folds of a whole lot of nothing was the germ for a maybe successful little Fantasy mystery.  The kind of story that Neil Gaiman might have told.

The sad fact remains, however, that whatever promise this film might have had was squandered by the director's lack of vision and commitment.  Both problems tend to spell the kiss of death for any creative project.  The inevitable results are what we have here.  An interesting premise with what could have been a decent amount of quiet yet quirky potential.  All of which went on to be squandered at the mercy of an artist who can't seem to tap into his Imagination very well, at least not for this project.  Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity that Sigul failed to seize on was the chance to make the character of the Irving's daughter the main character.  Since all the indications of real life history point to her as being the actual creator of Gef means the story sort of deserves to be hers, as she's the one figure in the entire narrative with the greatest amount of dramatic potential.  It could have leant the film a genuine air of imaginative fun.  Instead, Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose is just one of those films that can't seem to raise a decent spirit.  There are bound to be Better Folk Horror Fantasies out there than this.  

No comments:

Post a Comment