There’s this thing we call life that we all go through together. Yet, despite its inherent connectedness, sadly, we often fail to see or appreciate this attribute. We tend to look upon ourselves and everything in our existence as separate components loosely linked by certain limited degrees of commonality. And so, when some kind of manifestation arises made up of elements – people, places, things, etc. – that don’t seem to belong together, we find it even more inscrutable, failing to sense the intrinsic validity or value in it. Shattering such restricted impressions, however, is arguably one of the healthiest influences that can promote our personal growth, one of the central thrusts underlying the narrative of the new French comedy-drama, “The Intouchables.”
When Philippe (François Cluzet), a quadriplegic Parisian aristocrat tragically crippled in a paragliding accident, seeks to hire a new caretaker, he’s presented with an array of eminently qualified applicants. But, no matter how capable they come across on paper, Philippe seems unimpressed with all of them. In fact, strangely enough, the only candidate in whom he has any interest is Driss (Omar Sy), an unruly, untrained immigrant from Senegal with a criminal record who showed up for the interview only as a means to fulfill requirements for receiving government assistance benefits.Nevertheless, Philippe is impressed with the unlikely applicant’s unabashed moxie. Unlike the other candidates, who wear their obsequious (and largely self-serving) attitudes on their sleeves, Driss naturally exhibits qualities to which Philippe is drawn – pragmatism, quiet confidence and a lust for the qualities that make life worth living. Philippe’s handlers (Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Grégoire Oestermann) are concerned when he hires Driss, given his lack of qualifications and checkered past. But Philippe justifies his decision by saying that he believes his new caretaker will give him what he wants most – no pity.
The unlikely duo gets off to a rocky start, but Philippe and Driss quickly develop a bond that gives rise to an unusual but remarkable, dynamic friendship, one that transcends the employer-employee relationship. And, as time passes, Driss gives Philippe the thing he needs most – a reason to continue living, despite his condition. This, in turn, makes it possible for Philippe to give Driss what he needs most – a life that would have otherwise escaped him, one that exceeds his dreams and expectations.
It’s been said that, when life hands us lemons, we should make lemonade, and that’s certainly true when we look at our lives from a conscious creation perspective (especially once we realize we created those lemons, for better or worse, in the first place). Even if Philippe isn’t clear about the reasons why he created his own personal lemons (in most instances like this, some type of life lesson is usually involved), he’s certainly well aware of the need to squeeze the juice out of them, and that’s where his relationship with Driss comes in. For instance, even if Philippe can no longer directly participate in all of the joys he once did, he quickly becomes aware he can compensate for that with Driss’s assistance, partaking either with special accommodation or through vicarious experience. Likewise, Driss comes to see unexplored possibilities for himself that he once never envisioned, thanks to Philippe’s support and guidance. Who would have thought, for example, that a kid from the streets who openly mocked the art world would himself come to be an accomplished painter? In the end, it all depends on what one does with one’s lemons.
Of course, reaching this point requires getting in touch with ourselves. We must all become our own “in touch-ables,” learning how to access the inner thoughts, beliefs and intents that we draw upon to manifest the reality we experience around us through the conscious creation process. In particular, we need to become aware of the inherent connections that exist among the various elements of our realities, seeing the ties that bind them, their relevance and what they ultimately might lead to. Would Philippe, for example, be able to enjoy the richness of his life were it not for Driss helping to show him a new way to live it? Similarly, would Driss have come to appreciate the blessings of his existence if Philippe hadn’t seen the untapped potential residing within his unorthodox caretaker? Conscious creation connects everything, and the more we become cognizant of this, the more joy and contentment we’ll be able to realize from our existence.
This becomes especially clear when it comes to matters of interpersonal sharing, wherein connections tend to become more obvious. Giving to one another involves reaching out and establishing a bond, thereby illuminating the existence of a relationship between us and that with which or whom we extend ourselves. This is a common theme that has been explored in many other movies over the years (especially in matters of altruism), such as through Peter Sellers’ Chance the gardener in “Being There” (1979) and Nick Nolte’s homeless guru Jerry in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1986), where these unassumingly gifted characters unwittingly give others what they need (and what they often don’t even realize is lacking in their lives). Driss does the same for Philippe in this film, but there’s an added twist – the giver ends up being a receiver as well, ultimately getting back gifts of a nature not unlike what he himself gives to others. Connectedness, it would seem, can go both ways in this context.
“The Intouchables” is a delightful movie, full of warmth and gentle humor but never losing sight of the circumstances out of which its narrative arises. It has an occasional tendency to veer off on tangents that don’t always receive their just due, but, thankfully, no unresolved or seemingly inexplicable threads are left hanging. The leads turn in solid performances, and they have great chemistry both with one another and with supporting players. The cinematography shows off Paris well, and the diverse soundtrack provides a nice musical backdrop.
The film has been something of a cultural sensation in its native France, having become the nation’s most-watched film in 2011 after only four weeks in theaters and eventually becoming the second most-viewed picture in French history. It’s also received its share of accolades, including Omar Sy’s win as best actor in the César Awards competition, the French equivalent of the Oscars, having even edged out eventual Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin for “The Artist” (2011) in that same category.However, the movie has not been without its share of controversy, either. Some reviewers and bloggers have been hypercritical of the picture. And, admittedly, some aspects of the film are a little odd, such as the fact that it’s based on the true story of a wealthy handicapped Frenchman and his Algerian (not Senegalese) caregiver. The narrative’s substitution of an Arab protagonist with a Black character has been the source of considerable speculation for its racial and religious connotations. But, as unusual as this deviation is, it seems a stretch to say that its implications go as deeply as some detractors have suggested, especially since the issues of race and religion are, at best, incidental to the story line.
To me, these criticisms seem like little more than misguided, overly analytical attempts at trying to find some agenda-driven political incorrectness where no such animal exists. Indeed, why someone would want to needlessly tear apart such a heartwarming film as this escapes me. Our world would be much better off, in my opinion, if more of us drew from the inspiration of these characters and their relationship than looking for ways to needlessly knock down the vehicle through which their story is explored.
Overcoming petty preconceived notions like those raised above, along with looking for ways to further our capacities for providing each other with mutual support, are central themes of this film, and it’s quite ironic that those who are most critical of this picture – the ones at whom these messages are most directed – are also the ones least likely to grasp them. Yet, if we were all to embrace these insights, we could do ourselves proud at reshaping a better world for ourselves and our posterity. Let’s hope we open our eyes to such opportunities when they present themselves.
Copyright © 2012, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.