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Starving Children Make Great Accessories

Geoff Pevere

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Because the starving of Ethiopia are being deprived not only of essential nutrients but of glamour, in the film, ‘Beyond Borders’, Angelina Jolie arrives to save the hungry hordes wearing a smashing white ensemble offset magnificently against the desert yellows. Resplendently virginal, she may be the prettiest blue-eyed angel to hit the continent since Peter O’Toole.

Later, on her way to the relief camp run by the tempestuous but driven and delectably blue-eyed Dr. Nick Callaghan (Clive Owen), she sees a starving child being harassed by a vulture: You can tell she’s mortified because her otherwise immovably fluffed lip-pillows actually part for a second.

Hollywood carea about making sure the USA public knows only enough about world poverty to buy the video.
Ordering her obligingly feisty female driver to stop the vehicle, Jolie’s Sarah Jordan hops down from the jeep and runs to seize the infant. On the soundtrack, James Horner’s wall-of-schmaltz music score tumbles like Jericho’s wall behind her, propelling Sarah toward the horror like a gazelle fleeing a fire on the plain.

It is then that one realizes why the spectacle moved this selfless soul so much. It’s because it’s not a child but a computer generated image of one, and who wouldn’t want to hop out of a moving jeep - even one bouncing through a Third World hell hole like mid-’80s famine-stricken Ethiopia - to get a better look at that?

Or is it a spontaneous eruption of narcissistic empathy that propels Sarah from the relative safety of the jeep to the vulture’s claws? After all, when she pulls the computer-generated starving Ethiopian baby to her smashingly alabaster bosom, Sarah reveals something else binding her to the virtual urchin: They’re both unbelievably skinny.

With her china-fine wrists and low-fat Barbie physique - which is never obscured by her various changes in form-flattering international relief-couture - Sarah bridges First and Third Worlds with shared nutritional deprivation. “My God,” you can almost hear her thinking - if only that James Horner wall-of-schmaltz would stop tumbling long enough to let you - “The whole country’s got an eating disorder!”

Arriving at the camp where the cranky but compassion-stricken idealist Dr. Nick presides, Sarah implores him to help the digital baby. At first, he scoffs and refuses, insisting that it makes little sense to halt everything to minister to a single dying sufferer when so many lives are so urgently at stake.

Her metallic-blue eyes rendered both moist and angry by this display of eminently prudent medical judgment, Sarah shames Nick into operating on the boy’s badly wounded, digital fly-drawing mother and advising her on how to keep the boy alive. Strangely, rather than suggesting she consult the software manual that created him, Dr. Nick advises putting some milk on her finger and moving it around the boy’s lips one drop at a time.

It works! Not only does the milky finger save the child, it opens the floodgates of repressed desire and tightly corked feelings Dr. Nick has been clenching behind his firmly articulated jaw. When Sarah wonders why the doctor has never said her name, he can no longer contain himself. His blue eyes prove as torrential as her own as he admits it’s just too painful to give a name to something he fears losing. He’s talking about all those thousands of starving people beyond the tent’s walls, but he’s also talking about Sarah. It’s only a matter of time, and a few Third World relief crises, before the two hit a gauze-draped hospital cot for a little old-fashioned mutual charity exchange.

Are these walk-on, throw-away actors unhappy because they never get the star role, or are they hiding a deeper wound?

Are these walk-on, throw-away actors unhappy because they never get the star role, or are they hiding a deeper wound?

Their latent erotic connection now firmly fused, Nick and Sarah continue to meet in various Third World crisis centres over the next decade; he always angry but only out of righteous oversensitivity, she always smashing-looking and thoughtfully colour-coordinated. In civil war-torn Cambodia, it’s a Bruce Lee pyjama-suit and khaki fatigues against a jungle backdrop, while in wintry Chechnya it’s a striking black-against-white-snow number topped with a tip of a fur-trimmed hat to Dr. Zhivago.

Because it not only depicts charity but practises it, Beyond Borders always keeps our sympathetic interest in Third World catastrophe alive by never complicating matters with too many details. With rare exceptions, almost none of the suffering, dark-skinned people are given names - lest the pain of losing them prove too much - and no context is given to their suffering.

Instead, in a boldly acrobatic flip of dramatically advantageous logic, it is the suffering who become the context - the context for a ravishing, globe-trotting romance between a pillowy-lipped, calorie-deprived First World fashion plate and a blue-eyed doctor with anger-management issues stemming from an over concern for nameless suffering foreigners.

To imagine that there are those who would scoff at the idea that fashion cares! As Beyond Borders demonstrates with such lavish sensitivity, fashion cares like nothing else. When it comes to giving up food, fashion practically spews concern.

Published Friday, October 24th, 2003 - 05:58pm GMT

Article courtesy of The Toronto Star

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