Big Brother (Film Review: “The Giant”)

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A strangely beautiful story of two brothers whose efforts to capitalize on the deformity of one, launches them on a peculiar and heartbreaking quest for independence.

SnapShot Plot

The Giant (Handia) is a mid-19th century period film inspired by true events, about an older brother who returns to his Basque home several years after his unwilling conscription into the army, only to find that his younger brother has quite literally grown into a giant. It’s based on the historic figure, Miguel Joaquín Eleizegui Arteaga (1818-1861) who suffered from gigantism and was known as the “Giant from Altzo”.

The miserable family farm can barely support the family itself, let alone an enormous young man who raids the pantry in acts of nocturnal gorging. Joaquin (played by an expressive and plaintive-faced Eneko Sagardo) has no ambitions of ever leaving the farm if not for the enterprising attitude of his brother Martin (played by a pixie-faced Joseba Usabiaga), whose experiences during the war and beyond have made him more world-wise about the appetites of a broader public enthralled by the strange and the exotic. With the guidance of an impresario businessman, they embark on a series of tours throughout the country, selling Joaquin to the curious crowds in towns and cities, all the while subjecting him to a mixture of astonishment, admiration and ridicule. Joaquin is at turns embarrassed, horrified, and eventually resigned to his ‘value’ on the open market. Strangely, Joaquin’s case of gigantism is an ongoing horror in which his body is continuing to grow, causing acute physical pain made even more unbearable as he feels himself becoming more and more objectified by the world, including his own brother.

 

 

Parting Shot

The running theme behind The Giant is the concept of change, and how at times change seems inexorable and ever-present, while at other times mankind feels frozen in place and time, stuck between actions and events that are often out of our control. For Martin, the world beyond the farm offers an enticing opportunity for change, for advancement. For Joaquin, who wants only to return home where he feels comfortable, the changes within his own body are the stuff of nightmares, and when the medical community informs him of the condition he shares with a handful of other ‘giants’, he realizes his future as a grim reality.

Although the plot becomes plodding toward the end, The Giant is a beautifully filmed movie, with landscapes both impressive and evocative. The dialogue is mostly in the Basque language (a rarity) with many of the characters translating – en scene – into Spanish, which makes sense as the brothers’ act makes its way through the Spanish countryside and cities, extending even into other countries. Despite the lack of an English sub-titled trailer, the Netflix streaming service is well sub-titled in English.

The movie might have fared better with more dramatic tension between the brothers, although perhaps the strangely unsentimental union was intended to drive home the feeling of estrangement that Joaquin felt with everything and everyone around him. At times he looms like a large deer caught in headlights: bewildered and terrified. The final feeling from the film is one of somber meditation on the differences between us, which both separate and unify us in the human experience.

The Giant is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXQ9FobIP9g&t=25s

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