Oscar Review: Gandhi (1982)

Winner of 8 Academy Awards – including Best Actor (Ben Kingsley), Best Picture, Best Director (Richard Attenborough), Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Film Editing, and Original Screenplay – and nominated for 3 others, Gandhi is one of the finest biographical films ever made, earning the title character the honor of being the #21 greatest film hero of all time.

Tracing the life of the incomparable Mohondas K. Gandhi from his time as a lawyer traveling in South Africa to his rise to influence in the Indian Independence Movement as the Mahatma, or “Great Soul.” We first meet Gandhi on January 30, 1948 upon his assassination, setting the stage for the courage and vision seen in the scenes to follow.

As a young man arriving in South Africa, and seen as a “colored,” Gandhi is ejected from the train when he refuses to transfer to a third-class car from his third class compartment. This singular event sparks the idealistic lawyer into action against injustices and inequalities that have run rampant.

It follows that Gandhi inspires real change in government and returns to live among his fellow Indians in his homeland. There, too, he is propelled to act for justice and peace against the tyranny faced by every Indian. He marches, writes, is arrested many times, fasts against riots, and lights the fire of independence in the heart of each person he touches. His inspiration spreads to every corner of the world and, under Gandhi’s leadership, India finds its freedom.
Gandhi is an ambitious film. Trying to distill the life of such a great human being into 3 short hours is a difficult, if not impossible, task indeed. Somehow, though, this cinematic triumph reaches into the heart of Gandhi’s life and is able to present the depth of his example.

Without offering much commentary on the life of the man – as there are many others more well versed in his personal history and contributions – I will say that he was an example of how to live with our neighbors and to make meaningful progress a reality through non-violence and reason. It is far to easy for hearts to be filled with anger and hatred rather than to follow the ways of peace. Gandhi and those like him across history are to be our guide in the spirit with which to face struggles with courage and humility.

I think the film speaks for itself as a testament to the greatness that is possible within the human spirit as expressed in the life of this one man.

I will close with a few words by Gandhi that speak to me where I am, that I hope will help guide me in a way that leads to peace and greater understanding…

  • Where there is love, there is life; hatred leads to destruction.”
  • “Love is the strongest force the world possesses, and yet it is the humblest imaginable.”
  • “You must be the change you wish to see in the world. “
  • “Though we may know Him by a thousand names, He is one and the same to us all. “
  • “All the religions of the world, while they may differ in other respects, unitedly proclaim that nothing lives in this world but Truth.”
  • “Each one prays to God according to his own light. “
  • “I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world. “
  • “The essence of all religions is one. Only their approaches are different.”
  • “I am but a poor struggling soul yearning to be wholly good, wholly truthful and wholly non-violent in thought, word and deed, but ever failing to reach the ideal which I know to be true. “
  • John

    I really enjoyed this movie. I’m not sure how historically accurate it was, but it inspired me to read a bio of Gandhi when I was 12.

    It’s a pity that he wasn’t a Christian because he was more Christian than most Christians (myself included).

    February 21, 2006 at 8:28 am
  • Jason D. Moore

    I wouldn’t say he was more “Christian.” I would suggest that he was more in tune with the reality of God and recognized who he was meant to be in relation to that understanding more clearly than most. In that respect, I would certainly agree that he had a purer sense of justice and courage than the majority of followers of Christianity.

    For me – and it could lead into a much longer post on its own – this film, and Gandhi the man, points in a small way to the idea that we need to look beyond temporal, manmade differences to reach a common ground of peace. I read a number of his quotes while writing this review and found that he understood the relationships between religions in a much less black and white way than do most people. And it is that example I find compelling, and more realistic. His work to bring about meaningful change in South Africa, India, and the larger world – through the influence he had on leaders like MLK – is merely an outward expression of the inward belief that there is inherent value and truth in all religions and all experiences. It may not be easily recognizable given our own beliefs and biases but God is present there.

    It just takes people like Gandhi to remind us of that from time to time.

    February 21, 2006 at 10:37 am
  • John

    I overhead one of my profs this morning saying that if Gandhi isn’t in Heaven, then he’s giving the devil an awful time in Hell.

    I know that contradicts basic Christian theology of course. But I reject the idea of a hell-bound Gandhi at a visceral, gut-level. I guess also a works-based salvation level, too.

    Anyway, as you say, he had a purer sense of justice than most Christians. I recall that he once said, “In order for me to believe in their Redeemer, I must see some sign that they have been redeemed.”

    February 22, 2006 at 11:57 pm

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