We Were Wanderers on a Prehistoric Earth: A Short Film Inspired by Joseph Conrad

“We were wan­der­ers on a pre­his­toric earth,” says the nar­ra­tor Mar­low in Joseph Con­rad’s Heart of Dark­ness, “on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown plan­et. We could have fan­cied our­selves the first of men tak­ing pos­ses­sion of an accursed inher­i­tance, to be sub­dued at the cost of pro­found anguish and of exces­sive toil.”

The pal­pa­ble men­ace that per­me­ates Con­rad’s clas­sic novel­la has been edit­ed out of the nar­ra­tion in this short film, made for Tourism Malaysia by British film­mak­er James W. Grif­fiths. What remains is a poet­ic sense of won­der for a nat­ur­al world that is no longer fright­en­ing, no longer in need of being sub­dued. In the orig­i­nal, the twist­ing and turn­ing sen­tences are like a micro­cosm of a jour­ney up the wind­ing Con­go Riv­er, into the metaphor­i­cal dark­ness that lies at the heart of all men. Out of the still­ness of the page, Con­rad’s imag­i­na­tion wash­es over us in a rolling wave of words:

The great wall of veg­e­ta­tion, an exu­ber­ant and entan­gled mass of trunks, branch­es, leaves, boughs, fes­toons, motion­less in the moon­light, was like a riot­ing inva­sion of sound­less life, a rolling wave of plants, piled up, crest­ed, ready to top­ple over the creek, to sweep every lit­tle man of us out of his lit­tle exis­tence. And it moved not.

Grif­fiths can per­haps be for­giv­en for defang­ing Con­rad. We Were Wan­der­ers on a Pre­his­toric Earth is a beau­ti­ful lit­tle film, a qui­et med­i­ta­tion on the unspoiled rain­for­est of West Malaysia shot in Novem­ber by cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Christo­pher Moon, who also col­lab­o­rat­ed with Grif­fiths on last year’s award-win­ning Nokia cell­phone film Splitscreen. The music is by Lennert Busch, the sound design is by Mauri­cio d’Orey, and Con­rad’s words are spo­ken by Ter­ry Burns.

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  • Ed Nixon says:

    For­giv­en!? I won­der what Con­rad would say if he were alive and con­front­ed with a film using _some_ of his words, about a place on the oth­er side of the world from where those words were born? It’s not as if Con­rad did­n’t write elo­quent­ly about the Malaysian arch­i­pel­ago. Me? The best I can do to be char­i­ta­ble is sum­mon up a huge sense of the irony here, along with a uneasy sense that there might be some­thing else hid­den behind the film con­cern­ing its sub­ject that _all_ of Con­rad’s mean­ing would lay uncom­fort­ably bare.

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