Love. At Any Cost.
So reads the tagline for The Constant Gardener, a film of rare empathy that also succeeds as a pulse pounding thriller.
On the surface, it’s about a love so intoxicating that Justin (Ralph Fiennes) is willing to die for it. Flashbacks show Tessa (Rachel Weisz) and Justin cavorting in bed, learning each others bodies, arguing.
Their romance is not given the typical romantic treatment, in which the couple goes on a date, camera lingerings on their faces, their gestures, and eventually come to the conclusion they are perfect for each other. We see them taking a bath together, and then we see Justin growing suspicious of Tessa, only for her to assuage his fears with pure, blatant honesty. Perhaps that is why it is so effective. The relationship is built not on grandiose Hollywood gesticulations, but the quiet workings of a couple who are at ease with one another.
The other love is the love for our neighbors. In this case, the poorest neighbors we can possibly imagine, as much of the action takes place in Kenya. Not once does the film induce pity for the happenings in the African continent-there are enough non profits and Facebook groups that do that already.
What the film does, and does so wonderfully, is present an infuriatingly unjust situation and tell the viewer that this is why we should love our neighbor. If we really did, we would not be using destitute Africans as guinea pigs.
There is more. The film also asks up to empathize with people like Tess, activists who have made it their life work to improve those of others. There are scenes in which Tess completely ignores her husband, so lost is she in the righteousness of her mission. We are later told that it was to keep him safe, but it was unnecessary, even hurtful.
Seconds before he commits suicide by shooting himself eight times, Justin tells her as much. Did Tess go overboard? Was her death preventable? What did her actions truly accomplish? Did she end up hurting her husband in the name of love, for him and her neighbors?
May we all find the love we need, so we can finally say we are home.