I watched this film quite a while ago, before I got married and my posting schedule for the blog completely changed. I am just now getting around to this piece, and unfortunately we weren’t missing out on much. Islands in the Stream is based on the last Hemingway novel. Really it was pieced together by his wife after he passed away and we can’t really know if he would have ever had it published himself, but it is said that the main character is based on who Hemingway saw himself as.
Thomas Hudson (George C. Scott) has seen a lot in his life and has retired to an island in the Caribbean where he fishes, sculpts, and drinks. He has some good buddies who don’t expect much from him but would do a lot for him. When the film opens he is expecting a rare visit from his three sons from two marriages. Ranging in age from 10 to 19, the boys all have unique relationships with their father. The oldest, Tom (Hart Bochner) remembers his mom and dad having a loving and passionate relationship, while the middle child David (Michael-James Wixted) is resentful toward his father for the way he treated his mom–the second wife.
Wixted is probably the best performance from the three kids, and it is just as well because his character has the biggest arch out of the three. It is very much a coming of age tale for him, and it helps that his dad is there to gently coach him through it. Though you wouldn’t expect it, especially because Thomas has been absent for much of their lives, he really does care for his children. He perhaps has more affection toward Tom because that marriage was the best, and he misses it.
The second part of the film is quite slow and is punctuated by an unexpected visit from the first wife, Audrey (Claire Bloom), who brings hard news that perhaps spurs on the third act, which is so drastically different from the first two it’s a wonder it ever made it into the film. Although the first two thirds of the film moved very slowly, I was interested in the characters and their relationships. The third act completely lost me. I’m not sure if it is a part of the book–some reviews made it sound as if it was an addition to the film and I would love to know if this is true. Perhaps the production team was attempting to liven up the story, but I really wish it had not been included. There are rescued Jews (the story takes place at the beginning of World War II), smuggling, and cheap looking explosions. It is a huge disruption from the tranquility of the island life.
I’ll be honest that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Islands in the Stream. I was curious about Thomas, his family, and the relationships all throughout the film. I cared for them, but there were certainly moments that I won’t specify (no spoilers here!) that could have been done better. The cinematography was certainly beautiful and well done, especially for a film from the seventies. The acting was acceptable, and although the pace of the film was slow it fit with the lifestyle of beach life.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this film. I probably won’t be watching it again. If you are curious about Hemingway’s last book, it might be a good place to start, but I expect the actual novel would be a much better medium.