Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Transcription: Under the Volcano, Analysis 3

These quotes are taken from reviews of the John Huston film adaptation, fortunately the film doesn't far from the original source material meaning what is said about the film is still relevant to the book. Going this route has proved far more successful in terms of getting usable quotes that can help me pick apart the novel.

Succeeds in capturing the novel's sense of doom

approaches the novel's deeper meaning of a man destroyed by his own imagining of the coming apocalypse (due to the rise of fascism and the approaching world war)

man destroyed by his own frailties over being cuckolded, his unmanageable drinking problem and his interminable self-pity

he's wracked with guilt over his empty life

Alcoholism was the central plot device in Mr. Lowry's semi-autobiographical novel (he was a suicidal alcoholic)

tortured soul heading for an even greater free fall as he stumbles around the town trying to drink himself into oblivion.

creative self-destruction

The pathetic Geoffrey wanders aimlessly around the village for most of the pic and then in the climactic scene drunkenly makes his way to an out-of-the-way sleazy bar-whorehouse where he's too drunk to see or care about the danger in front of him. The only saving grace for Geoffrey is that he holds onto his dignity even as he plunges full steam ahead into his hellish self-created destruction.


Malcolm Lowry's modern-day gothic novel depicts the fevered innermost feelings of a tortured alcoholic consul

For Lowry, "The novel can be regarded as a kind of symphony, or in another way as a kind of opera. It's a poem, a song, a tragedy, a comedy. It is superficial and profound, entertaining and boring, according to taste."

In a letter to his publisher, the author noted that his concern in the book was with "the forces in man that cause him to be terrified of himself." He claimed he was interested in exploring "the guilt of man, his remorse, his ceaseless struggling toward the light under the weight of his past, and his doom."

Purists of the strange, hallucinatory novel

a disgraced former British diplomat who embraces his own destruction.

She had written him many letters, which he has misplaced, but is appalled by his pathetic state. When Geoffrey tries to make love, memories of her adultery with his half-brother Hugh (Andrews) drive him mad.

he realizes there is no future for their doomed relationship.

Firmin as an extraordinary man, whose reaction to life is to get drunk in a big, heroic, macho way.

As the Consul, he's a tormented drunkard inwardly oppressed by self-hate and guilt and outwardly disgusted with the evil world around him.
a man desperate to maintain a sense of dignity and humanity.

Firmin sinks deep into his self-created hell

The Consul can be seen as a burnt-out hero who says no to the brave new world of betrayal and violence. His life and death can be viewed as a statement about a "no exit" life, both literally and figuratively, about the impossibility of decency and love.


A bizarre journey into the mystical Mexican underworld in 1939, UNDER THE VOLCANO is set during the morbid holiday known as the Day of the Dead--a day on which the souls of the dead spew forth from hell amid the colorful and lively festivities of the village of Cuernavaca


Story unfolds over a 24-hour period in November 1938 in the Mexican village of Cuernavaca where the former British Consul, Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney), guilt-ridden over the past and abandoned by his wife, is drinking himself to death. It's a time of celebration, the Day of the Dead, a day when death is celebrated.

Although this voyage into self-destruction won't be to the taste of many, there will be few unmoved by Finney's towering performance as the tragic Britisher, his values irretrievably broken down, drowning himself in alcohol and practically inviting his own death.


it captures the doomed spirit of the original,

who embraces his own destruction in


The consul drinks. He has been drinking for so many years that he has arrived at that peculiar stage in alcoholism where he no longer drinks to get high or to get drunk. He drinks simply to hold himself together and continue to function. He has a muddled theory that he can even "drink himself sober," by which he means that he can sometimes find a lucid window through the fog of his life.

His focus is on communication. He wants, he desperately desires, to penetrate the alcoholic fog and speak clearly from his heart to those around him.

The movie is based on the great novel by Malcolm Lowry, who used this day in the life of a drunk as a clothesline on which to hang several themes, including the political disintegration of Mexico in the face of the rising tide of Nazism.

They realize nothing can be done for him. Why do they stay with him? For love, maybe, or loyalty, but also perhaps because they respect the great effort he makes to continue to function, to "carry on," in the face of his disabling illness.


An alcoholic, he has given up on himself and the world at large.

The three take a bus to Tomalin where a rodeo/bullfight is being held. On the way, they see evidence of violence which seems to mirror the senseless death occuring in Europe.

There he discovers the misplaced letters from Yvonne's year of absence. He reads them and realizes there is no hope for their relationship.

As the Consul, he is a tormented drunkard inwardly oppressed by demons of self-hate and guilt and outwardly disgusted with the fallen world encrusted with proliferating evils.

In a letter to his publisher in 1946, Malcolm Lowry wrote that his principal concern in Under the Volcano was with "the forces in man which cause him to be terrified of himself." In addition, the novelist was interested in "the guilt of man, with his remorse, with his ceaseless struggilng toward the light under the weight of his past, and with his doom."

The Consul can be seen as a burnt-out case or as a hero who says no to the brave new world of power and betrayal. His life and death can be viewed as sad, sloppy and unfortunate, or as a parable about the pit.

Douglas Day calls Under the Volcano "the greatest religious novel of the century." While not everyone will rank it that loftily, many will concur with his view that the message of the work is essentialy moral: it is not possible to live without love; hell is being trapped in one's own psyche while refusing the beams of love and human camaraderie which beckons us out into the light.


Shuffling through The Day Of The Dead, when Mexicans remember their lost loved ones, Firmin exists in his own spirit-haunted netherworld, staggering between drunk, drunker and more drunk.

Hugh and Yvonne had an affair before she left - a betrayal which has left Firmin, for all his lyrical rambling and loquacious bonhomie, dead in his heart.