The Barbarian Invasions

Rémy (played by Rémy Girard), a history professor in Montréal, is dying of liver cancer. How will he spend his last days? The Barbarian Invasions (Les Invasions barbares), directed by Denys Arcand, provides an upbeat scenario to answer that question. His spouse Louise (played by Dorothée Berryman), who has been living apart for some years because of his philandering, calls his son Sébastien (played by Stéphane Rousseau) in London, begging him to visit his father before his death. Sébastien, an arbitrage millionaire, dutifully responds, though father and son have not in the recent past been on friendly terms. Upon arrival, Sébastien realizes that his father is not receiving the best of care. In a critique of the Canadian health care system, he learns that his father is in pain, cramped into a room with two others, and attended by doctors and nurses who do not even have charts with his correct name. Although the hospital administrator cites various government regulations and union restrictions as reasons not to provide decent care, he nevertheless transforms his father’s situation (and unhappy disposition) with wads of cash. Soon, his father is in a room of his own, surrounded by academic friends and former mistresses. As the pain increases, his son even arranges for a daughter of a friend to provide heroin for the dying man while police pay little attention. And, with the end near, he arranges to relocate his father from the hospital to a house by the peaceful St. Lawrence River. But the story operates on other levels. Rémy reminisces about his academic career, which he considers to have been a failure because he did not publish his thoughts for posterity, but his former colleagues help him to make light of the academic pretentiousness in which they all indulged. Some of his most profound thoughts are political. One observation is that more died in the sixteenth century than in the twentieth, since the Spanish are responsible for 200 million deaths in the Americas, and the other colonial powers added 100 million indigenous peoples to the death toll. He also notes that on 9/11 for the first time the “barbarians” got inside the “empire,” albeit to slaughter much fewer than the 50,000 who died at Gettysburg. As well, he recalls all the women in his life, not only his flings but also the glamorous stars whom he loved from afar. Most of all, he laughs, and others with him, though the humor may be too subtle for many Americans. With only a few days left, he realizes that he loves life itself most of all. That he is dying, surrounded by so many loving friends, is a model for us all. MH

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