At some point in our lives, most of us were probably told to or taught to fight back, to raise our hands against any wrongdoing. Most of western civilization encourages this brawn to some extent, but Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” To never make a physical blow to a threatening opponent may seem ill-advised to some, but the power and bravery that can be shown by non-violence can be astounding.
Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi is a film somewhere between a historical epic and a biopic, but contains the beauty of the human spirit in a way that feels so much more personal than either of those two genres can ever be. It’s a labor of love, artfully molded perfectly simply to share the story, triumph and spirit of Mahatma Gandhi.
The film shows Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) from his early adulthood, as an upstanding lawyer in South Africa who begins to protest against the racial discrimination against Indians. After winning Indians equal rights in South Africa through non-violent protests, he returns to India as a national hero and is sought out to help bring independence to India. Reluctant at first, reconnects with his fellow Indians, especially the impoverished and forsakes his western possessions and anything that put him at a higher status. Through a non-violent campaign he leads the Indian people against the British using non-cooperation, but it comes with a price.
What makes Gandhi’s ideas on non-violence most moving and noble is the violence we see inflicted upon these peaceful protesters. The absolute massacre of women and children under General Dyer (Edward Fox) is heart wrenching and only infuriates us, especially when he gets only a verbal reprimand. In another scene, men walk up to British guards in wave after wave, knowing that the guards will just beat them. It’s an act of courage and determination that only shows how brutal the enemy really is.
Some of the film’s best moments are humble, quiet and thoughtful, the exact words I would use to describe Kingsley’s portrayal of Gandhi. Kingsley was just a newcomer when he took on the momentous role, yet earned the Oscar for lead actor. There’s a beautiful sort of duality in the personality he uses to portray Gandhi, he can be very soft and stern at the same time. Even at his weakest moments, during the fasts he holds in order to stop the violence between the Hindus and Muslims, there is a power and strength that comes radiating from the frail little man. Overall, we see a momentous amount of love and concern for all humanity, and Mahatma Gandhi teaches us a higher way to live without trying to bring anyone else down. How simple, wonderful and uplifting for all.
I hope most people grew up with a better understanding and knowledge of Gandhi than I did. Besides picking his image out of history books, guessing that he graced Indian currency and an idea about peaceful protesting and fasting, I could tell you close to nothing about this great man. Something tells me I’m just one of many. If you want a good understanding and appreciation of Gandhi’s life, as most intelligent adults who care about humanity should, Gandhi is a must see.
“I want to change their minds, not kill them for weaknesses that we possess.”