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Film / The Mosquito Coast

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The Mosquito Coast is a 1986 American drama film directed by Peter Weir, based on the eponymous novel by Paul Theroux.

It stars Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, and River Phoenix in a story of a family that leaves the United States and tries to find a happier and simpler life in the jungles of Nicaragua. However, their jungle paradise quickly turns into a dystopia as the brilliant but stubborn father's behavior becomes increasingly erratic and aggressive.

The film was a commercial failure at the time, which many believed was due to audiences being unable to accept Ford, whose big claim to fame was playing lovable rogues such as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, appearing in such an unlikable role (Jack Nicholson was reportedly Weir's original choice for the part). In spite of this, Ford still cites the film as one of his own personal favorites from the work he's done.

Remade in 2021 as an Apple TV+ series, with Justin Theroux (Paul's nephew) in the lead role.

The Mosquito Coast provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Heroism might be taking it a bit far, but Allie Fox is far more mean-spirited in the book, and that's saying something.
  • A God Am I: Both played straight, as Charlie says the locals consider "ice as a miracle", and averted, since Allie states that "this is no miracle, this is thermodynamics". Although as the story goes on, he starts to mention that he feels a little like God.
  • Arc Words: "Ice is civilization".
  • Asshole Victim: Allie Fox himself.
  • Bamboo Technology: So many.
  • Break the Haughty: After the ice maker explodes, destroying the camp and killing the robbers, Allie pretty much loses his mind.
  • Cassandra Truth: Polski warning Charlie that Allie is "a dangerous man and he might get all his family killed". He comes close to doing it.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Allie is torn apart by vultures in the book.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Allie Fox seems be another of his actor Harrison Ford's leads, but when his character becomes more of an obstacle towards his family, his son and the movie's narrator Charlie is the true protagonist.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Allie traps some Nicaraguan rebels inside the refrigeration tower, expecting them to freeze and die overnight. He did not count on them trying to shoot their way out of it and causing a massive explosion that also burns down the nearby village due to the tubes supplying air conditioning to it.
  • Downer Ending: Allie dies and his family is on its own. Could arguably be seen as more of a Bittersweet Ending since the story ends implying that the family will return to America and, if nothing else, they are now at least free of Allie's control freak insanity.
  • Eagleland: Ouch. Allie goes for The Boorish flavor.
    Charlie: Have a nice day.
    Allie: Go on welfare. Get free money. Turn to crime. Crime pays in this country. Why do they put up with it? Why do they keep coming? Look around you, Charlie. This place is a toilet. [continues inside the shop] The whole damn country is turning into a dope-taking, door-locking, ulcerated danger zone of rabid scavengers, criminal millionaires, and moral sneaks.
  • Fallen Hero: Allie.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Charlie.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Allie "negotiates" with some rebels by letting them using the abandoned village as a base, and tricks them into spending a night in the refrigeration tower, expecting them to die of hypothermia. They wake up and realize they've been had, and start trying to shooting their way out, which ignites the refrigerant and causes a spectacular explosion that does more than just kill the three of them — it also burns down the village and spills refrigerant into the nearby river, contaminating it.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Allie; par for the course for 80s Hollywood.
  • Homemade Inventions
  • Japan Takes Over the World: At the beginning.
    Allie: Look! "Made in Japan". I don't want my hard-earned American dollars converted into yen [...] Goodbye. Or maybe I should have said, "Sayonara!" (tilting his head and leaning forward)
  • Mad Scientist: a non-Science Fiction example. Ford plays an engineer who specializes in refrigeration technology; only problem is, most people already have fridges and air conditioners. So he moves his whole family out to the jungle in the middle of nowhere and builds a giant refrigeration machine just so his talents will be better appreciated. This isn't enough to satisfy his budding megalomania, so he goes on a quest to show a block of ice to some reclusive tribals who have never seen it, presumably so everyone would ooh an ahh over it and him.
  • Mighty Whitey: Deconstructed. Harrison Ford plays a brilliant but arrogant inventor who, disillusioned with the consumerism of American life and believing nuclear war is around the corner, and the fact that no one appreciates his "brilliance" in America, moves his family to a village in the rainforest of Nicaragua and attempts to construct a utopian society there. Sanity Slippage ensues.
  • Now That's Using Your Teeth!: Drainy Roper/Maywit can chew wires somehow without breaking his teeth and make intricate shapes and toys.
  • Opening Monologue: "My father was an inventor...
  • Only Sane Man: Mr. Haddy towards the end.
  • Papa Wolf: Averted, subverted, deconstructed and pretty much anything in between. Despite all his talk of doing it for the greater good of his wife and children it seems pretty clear from early on that Allie Fox cares less about his family and more about his unrealistic and ultimately doomed utopia - so much so that he manipulates his family with lies about America being destroyed by a nuclear war so just so he can go on forcing them to live in his unhealthy and unrealistic do-it-yourself survivalist fantasy paradise.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Allie Fox considers pretty much everyone to be savages, and assumes he knows better than the villagers, and shuts anyone up who argues with him.
  • River of Insanity: The expedition to Jeronimo and its failure lead Allie Fox to insanity, and worse.
  • Sanity Slippage: Allie Fox goes from an arrogant inventor with good intentions to risking his family's life by forcing them to survive in the wild with very little resources, refusing to listen to any sort of reason or advice, and then claiming that America is dead and gone. This self-destructive insanity ultimately leads to Allie getting killed by an evangelical preacher he'd been at odds with shoots Allie for setting his capitalistic home on fire.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Charlie is the true protagonist, but most of his father's actions are told and narrated from his viewpoint from start to finish.
  • Tragic Hero: Allie Fox.
  • Villain Protagonist: Allie Fox.
  • World War III: Allie believes it's coming, at first, and then assumes it has already happened.