Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
Luis Buñuel’s 1954 “Robinson Crusoe” may be my favorite movie adaptation of a great novel. Buñuel’s dry, elliptical handling of the material highlights its fabulous qualities without kicking it into the realm of fantasy. (Buñuel is the rare filmmaker capable of underplaying exaggeration.) When the weary, sea-tossed Crusoe first appears upon his island, he plucks an egg from a bird’s nest. Its shell neatly opens, revealing a chick. Not soggy and strained-looking, like a newborn chick, but fluffy and yellow, like a chick born days prior. The movie is alive with such miracles; Buñuel seems to be asking us to see Crusoe’s survival as miraculous — to see existence as miraculous. Crusoe, a kind of mad saint, like the holy man of Buñuel’s later “Simon of the Desert,” discovers God, then agriculture and animal husbandry, and finally war. He also rediscovers slavery (he’d previously been in the slave trade), before rejecting it in favor of a feudal type of fellowship. Crusoe’s man Friday obeys him, like a vassal, but he also consoles him. The two men have a relationship that goes beyond friendship; they’re codependent. Every movie about a man stranded on an island has two chief subjects: loneliness and the mysteries of civilization. Buñuel rarely strays from these themes. The sequence beginning with Crusoe’s rueful consideration of a woman’s dress, and ending as the camera pulls back from the castaway, drunk and alone in his hovel, is one of the great expressions of loneliness in movies. And the sequence depicting the death of Crusoe’s dog, his lone companion, taps into our collective memories of canine suffering. Who feels more alone than a man who has lost his dog? As the duration of Crusoe’s stay on the island exceeds 20 years, his loneliness leads him to cruelty: he’s shown gleefully feeding ants to sand mites. The scene seems intended to connect to the adjacent scenes showing cannibals devouring captives in a remote part of Crusoe’s island. As in all Buñuel, and as in the Defoe novel, cruelty is never far from the reality of our daily lives. It’s what makes our humanity necessary.
Nice review. However, having read the book and seen this fine film, I have to say that the film script strays quite a bit from Defoe’s original story. And that is another subject that should be taken up: the adaptation of novels to film. It is almost never done well. Trying to squeeze a novel into a two, three, or even four-hour film is a difficult task.