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Film / The Constant Gardener

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A 2005 political thriller film directed by Fernando Meirelles, based on the 2001 novel by John le Carré.

We open with Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a mild-mannered British diplomat, saying goodbye to his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) at an airfield in Kenya. A few days later Justin's boss tells him Tessa may have been killed.

Cut without warning to Justin and Tessa's first meeting. Justin makes a prepared statement at the UN; Tessa uses the Q&A to go after him, the positions in the speech he read, and British foreign policy. The two of them end up continuing the discussion over drinks, and start a relationship.

In the present, Justin confirms that she has truly been killed, and begins to ask questions about the crime. What at first seems like the result of infidelity blown out of control starts to look like it might be related to Tessa's activism. Meanwhile, more flashbacks show how their relationship developed and fluctuated, and hint at Tessa's efforts to uncover human rights abuses, the extent of which were never completely shared with Justin.

His efforts to retrace his wife's steps and unravel a conspiracy that involves multinational corporations, corrupt local officials, and possibly some of his own superiors takes him around and between Africa and Europe. In the process, he tries to finally understand his wife's life, come to terms with their personal history, and honor her memory. Will the crimes of the powerful be exposed, will he be able to finally connect with Tessa after her death... and will he survive the journey?

The film contains examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: The first part of the movie is interspersed with flashbacks about Justin and Tessa's background.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The name of the NGO Arnold Bluhm works for, "Médecins dans l'Univers", means "Doctors in the universe" in French, so it would be more appropriate to a space research project than to an NGO.
  • The Atoner: Dr. Lorbeer. Justin as well.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Sir Bernard Pellegrin, Head of FCO Africa desk, and one of Justin's bosses. Quite apart from being one of the highest-ranking conspirators, the letter he wrote to Sandy (in response to Tessa's findings) reveals just how unpleasant he really is under his genteel exterior: in particular, he refers to Tessa as "your resident harlot."
  • Bury Your Gays: It's mentioned that the reason Bluhm had to hide his homosexuality is because he would likely have been imprisoned or even murdered had it become known. When he is killed (for other reasons), his body is mutilated in a manner that indicates that his killers knew this and either (a) disfigured him so as to add insult to injury or (b) wanted to make his death look like a homophobic attack.
  • Can't Stop the Signal
  • Caring Gardener: Justin is a British diplomat and an amateur gardener who spend a lot of time caring for plants. This is a way to show that he is a Nice Guy.
  • Chocolate Baby: Subverted. At the end of her pregnancy, Tessa is showed in hospital nursing a black baby. Actually her own baby is stillborn and she is nursing another woman's baby.
  • Cool Old Guy: Tim Donohue.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Justin's death is incomprehensibly ruled a suicide, despite, as his friend cites, his body "bearing no less than 8 bullet wounds from three different guns, none of which matched the one he held in his hand."
    • Bluhm also supposedly killed himself out of guilt for killing Tessa—in a manner that would be highly unlikely and utterly impossible for him to do.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Three Bees management, as well as KDH.
  • Covers Always Lie: While Justin does obtain a gun, he never brandishes it quite like the Pistol Pose of the poster (the pistol can only be seen in silhouette, but the pose is clearly the same).
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Arnold.
  • Death of a Child: Tessa's baby is stillborn.
    • A little boy is among the bodies laid out in the morgue when Justin goes to identify Tessa's body.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Justin has an INCREDIBLY—almost disturbingly so—peaceful expression just before he's gunned down.
  • Disturbed Doves: A flock of birds takes flight as Justin is gunned down.
  • Enemy Mine: As a form of revenge against his ex-paymasters, Kenny Curtis supplies Justin with information-including the whereabouts of a mass grave containing the bodies of Wanza and several hundred other dead test subjects.
    Curtis: "Let's just say that if I'm going to the wall, I want a trophy."
  • Enhance Button: A minor example.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: "A marriage of convenience that only produces dead children" - well, you can't blame him for misinterpreting that.
  • Fictional Counterpart: Bluhm is working for "Médecins dans l'Univers", an obvious substitute for "Médecins Sans Frontières" ("Doctors Without Borders").
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: As Justin walks through the morgue to identify Tessa's body, a little boy is among the bodies laid out on other tables.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Tessa's mutilated body is not shown, aside from her bloody hand, we get only vague shots of Bluhm's equally mangled corpse, and the camera cuts away just before Justin is gunned down. We don't even hear it, the filmmakers opting to show a flock of birds taking flight as the gunfire presumably erupts.
  • Government Conspiracy: The Foreign Office is part of a conspiracy to let pharmaceutical companies test their drugs on African people.
  • He Knows Too Much: Or "they", rather. The reason behind Tessa, Arnold, and ultimately Justin's murders.
  • How We Got Here: The film starts with Tessa's departure for Loki and the discovery of her body a bit later. During the first part of the film, several flashbacks show the events that happened from his meeting with Justin in London until her departure for Loki.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Ham accuses himself of this, especially after Tessa's death.
  • Ironic Echo: Tessa tries to convince Justin to help a family home so that they do not have to walk for days, but Justin rejects her, telling her that they cannot help everyone. Tessa replies that it at least does matter for this one family. Later, Justin tries to save a little girl, arguing the same way Tessa did back then, and gets rejected too, having to leave the little girl to her fate.
  • Jerkass: Kenny Curtis, head of Three Bees; foul-mouthed, bad-tempered and totally corrupt. Actually has the nerve to call Tessa a bitch-after her death-right to Justin's face.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Justin and Tessa want to have a child, but it does not work: their baby is stillborn.
  • The Lost Lenore: Justin's wife, Tessa, is killed near the beginning of the film, which shows Justin's quest to discover who killed her.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Subverted. While Tessa and Bluhm are definitely murdered, her murder is made to look as if at his hands, while his is made to look like a homophobic attack rather than an assassination because of their investigation.
  • Manly Tears: Justin after Tessa's death.
  • Media Scrum: After the letter is read at Justin's funeral.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: How Justin gets killed in the end.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Played for Drama, and made ambiguous to the audience for a long time.
  • Never Suicide: The conspiracy plans to cover up Justin's murder as a suicide.
  • No Bisexuals: Justin is convinced that Arnold wasn't having an affair with Tessa when he's told he has a boyfriend.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Tessa is killed in the beginning and the story is about Justin investigating her murder.
  • Posthumous Character: Tessa is killed near the beginning of the film. Her character is developped via flashbacks. Arnold Bluhm's character is also developed via flashbacks, but the fact that he is dead is only confirmed near the end of the film.
  • Predatory Big Pharma:
    • Late in the film, Justin arrives in the Sudan via a plane dropping off vital medical supplies to remote villages. The Frontier Doctor he meets soon reveals that the supplies were donated by pharmaceutical companies for the sake of getting a tax break, and as such, most of the drugs are all long past their safe use-by-date, meaning that the entire airdrop has been completely pointless.
      Dr Lorbeer: Big pharmaceuticals are right up there with the arms dealers.
    • The main villains of the film are Three Bees, a British pharma company testing the anti-tuberculosis drug Dypraxa on poor Kenyan villagers. However, the faulty drug ends up killing several test subjects, so to complete the trials on time, Three Bees opts to just bury the bodies in quicklime and stay schtum about the whole thing, intending to justify any deaths among their eventual customers by claiming Plausible Deniability. For good measure, they and their allies in the British Foreign Office are willing to assassinate anyone who knows about the deaths.
    • KDH Pharmaceutical, the Greater-Scope Villain of the film, has predicted a major TB epidemic and created Dypraxa in a shameless attempt to exploit the imminent crisis. Earning the support of the British government by building a major factory in Wales, they're using Three Bees to carry out the trials as a buffer, and most of the assassinations are secretly overseen by KDH security boss Crick. On top of being corrupt as hell, they're also extremely fair-weather: when Three Bees becomes too unprofitable, KDH abandons their partnership and finds a new company to perform the trials - ironically turning Three Bees CEO Kenny Curtiss into an unexpected ally of Justin.

  • Sex for Services: Tessa tells Sandy that she will have sex with him if he gives her the letter from Pellegrin. But she doesn't intend to fulfil her part of the deal.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Justin gets beaten up as a corny German talk show plays cheerful music in the background.
  • Take Up My Sword: Tessa investigated the dirty business of pharmaceutical companies in Africa. She is murdered and her husband, Justin, resumes her investigation and finally exposes the scandal.
  • The Spymaster: Tim Donohue, though he freely admits that the spy game isn't what it used to be. Nonetheless, after Justin goes looking for answers, Tim remains one of his few allies.
  • Straight Gay: The only indication that we get that Arnold Bluhm was gay is seeing a picture of him and his boyfriend.
  • Together in Death: Tessa's spirit comes to comfort Justin just before he's gunned down.
  • Unperson: Wanza and the rest who die under the effects of the experimental drug. Every record of their existence is erased.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: We get the sounds but not the sight of Sandy retching upon seeing Tessa's body.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Tim points out that both he and Justin will both be dead by Christmas: Justin due to the hit put out on him, Tim from cancer. Given that Justin's assassinated some time later and Tim's never seen again after this meeting, it seems he was right.