The Old Man and the Sea
By Mike Derderian
Missing out on the joys of life is like driving four hours to the sea without swimming once you get there. It is like resisting the urge to nibble on a hot loaf of bread as you stand in line in the middle of a bakery or not being able to see the simple people surrounding us.
The ultimate joy to me is when I win a battle, every time life proclaims war on me; even when my confidence and ideals are almost shattered during that struggle I decide that I will rise from the ashes and fight back.
For I believe once you’ve let go of the fishing line you’ll end up with nothing but an empty fishing basket. If the harpoon holds on to the body of the giant fish you are trying to hunt, hold on to it as hard as you can.
If you’ve ever read—or seen the screen adaptation of—Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, you might want to follow in the footsteps of Santiago, the washed up old fisherman, whom everyone believed was a failure and a bad omen to the rest of them. But, I guess, he showed them all.
I remember reading Hemingway’s novel at school when I was a boy filled with dreams and expectations. As our English teacher reached the final lines of the novel, I took an oath on myself that I will be a man like Santiago.
I decided that even if life itself was determined to give up on me I will hold on to the line no matter what happens. If the line slowly digs through my skin and reaches the bone I will still hold on to my catch. I sound like Captain Ahab, don’t I? “I’ll get you Moby Dick, even it costs me my life.”
The 1990 television film starring Anthony Quinn, who gave an inspiring performance as Santiago, is about man’s never ending struggle with life. The big marlin fish he was trying to capture was a metaphor for life. She was the driving force that dragged the old fisherman in body and spirit to the middle of the sea, where he was to put his skills and lifetime experience to good use once again.
We sometimes find it hard to believe that our lives, like Santiago’s, took the wrong turn at some point. But it seems like we no longer firmly hold the helm and we tend to forget to paddle a little faster in order to reach shore.
During the 93 minuets of the film you’ll find that the best lines where the ones spoken by Santiago, Hemingway’s mouthpiece and parallel, as he struggled to hold on to his fish. Taking the age factor, the man did well; nowadays, men cannot lift a simple stone, even if their life and welfare depended on it.
“A man can be destroyed but not defeated,” says Santiago, who may have lost in favor of ferocious sharks but he definitely won the fight that proved his mettle and restored his self-confidence and self-respect. Every now and then a person needs a good fight to prove his worthiness, mine has just started.
A lot of people complain that Hemingway’s novel is slow in pace and dreary. Yes, you might experience the same feelings during the film. But may I remind you that it is, in the end, based on the life of a fisherman, whose livelihood depends on patience, stamina and the courage to withstand hours of sailing under extreme weather conditions.
Based on his experience as a war reporter, hunter, adventurer and fisherman, Hemingway managed to sincerely build realistic characters, who find themselves in situations that are beyond their control, yet they still mange to survive, and that’s what life is all about. Yet, ironically, Hemingway, born 1899, believed that his struggle with illness was a lost battle and it was over, so he killed himself in 1961.
In the film, we are introduced to two protagonists; the first is Santiago, who is caught up in a physical struggle; and the second is a young American writer, who came to Cuba on a vacation with his wife to find inspiration. Tom Pruitt is trying to overcome his mental staleness as a writer. So basically young or old, we have a fight with life and a story that one day will be told.
Gary Cole, who you might remember as Jack “Nighthawk” Killian from the hit television series The Midnight Caller that showed on Jordan Television (JTV) in the 80s, had a minor role compared to Quinn’s.
The film also starred Patricia Clarckson and Alexis Cruz in the role of Manolo the young boy, who always believed in Santiago and loved his stories about baseball, Joe DiMaggio and arm wrestling.
Now to struggle with a giant fish for more than five days in the middle of the sea is an act of courage and persistence; however, if you find yourself in a street fight surrounded by ten chinamen armed to the teeth, it is easier to surrender than to say, “I have the upper hand, simply because I practice Kung Foo.”