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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Going Native

The Emerald Forest (1985) on IMDb

Plot Overview

A Floresta das Esmeraldas” (“The Emerald Forest”) is based on true events that occurred in the Amazon Rain Forest of Brazil. Dam engineer Bill Markham (Powers Boothe) brings his wife Jean Markham (Meg Foster) and family to his dam construction site in the wild where they have a wee picnic. Seven-year-old Tommy (William Rodriguez) lays a trail of crumbs into the trees for the ants to carry away, and he gets carried away by the “smiling people” in the bush. Ten years of native adaptation later, his ritualistic vision quest embodies him as a hawk seeking prey, and he takes off alone to garnish some green sacred stones his tribe (the “Invisible People”) uses for coloration to blend in with the emerald forest. Mean­while his father will embody the jaguar a keen hunter. When the seeker encounters the hunter, Tomme (Charley Boorman) will recognize Daddee, the man from his dreams. Tomme's adoptive father Wanadi full of native wisdom advises, “When a dream becomes flesh, trouble is not far behind.”


Do you recall one of Kenny Rogers's songs concerning a chance meeting with “The Gambler” on a train, who offered the passenger this advice: “Every hand's a winner/ And Every hand's a loser”? The refrain of the song goes:

You've got to know when to hold 'em,
Know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away,
Know when to run.

You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

This wisdom of the gambling man's repartee is old as the hills and was passed on by a raconteur, Agur in Proverbs 30:1, whose four meta­phors offered the same life advice as did Rogers's Gambler. That we find in, (Prov. 30:29-31) “There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going: A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any; A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.”

We have Agur's “lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any” and we have Rogers's “know[ing] when to hold 'em.” In the jungle village scene when it's time for Tomme to select a mate, he brandishes a club at the fair damsel he's wanting to "knock out", and she encourages him in sotto voce, “Do it right!” It's not a time to wimp-out but to imitate the lion who's determined to have his way.

We have Agur's “king, against whom there is no rising up,” and we have Rogers's “Know[ing] when to fold 'em” A king who knows when to give in to his subjects doesn't experience any uprising. When Daddee cannot persuade Tommee to return with him to civilization to reunite with his mom, he asks the chief to intervene on their behalf. Wanadi replies: “If I tell a man to do what he does not want to do, I am no longer chief.”

We have Agur's “he goat also” and we have Rogers's “Know[ing] when to walk away.” In the movie there comes a time for Bill to walk away from his reunification quest.

We have Agur's “greyhound” and Rogers's “Know[ing] when to run.” That corres­ponds to numerous chase scenes where fleeing is the best option when out­gunned and out­numbered by the “Fierce People”.

The gambler gave the advice:

You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

One has to wait until the end of the movie to see how everything shakes out.

Production Values

This gem, “The Emerald Forest” (1985) was directed by John Boor­man. Its screen­play was written by Rosco Pallenberg. It stars Powers Boothe, Charley Boorman, and Dira Paes. Powers Booth gives a terrific performance as a construction site engineer and concerned father. Charley Boorman is impressive as his son Tommy (Tomme) gone native. The natives were played by actors, and they did such a good job one would think they were real natives save for the women's western good looks.

“The Emerald Forest” was rated R. It was filmed along the Araguaia River in Brazil. Stun­ningly beautiful cinema­tog­raphy by Philippe Rousselot and a fulsome musical score high­light the Amazon jungle filmed under difficult conditions.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This is a charming movie with an ecological message to boot, albeit with some manipulative statistics thrown in. It moves right along and doesn't get dragged down any­where, and there are enough surprises that the audience doesn't get complacent. If you like nature films with a large dollop of native myth, this one will suit you just fine.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Well done action flick. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good Date Movie. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Rogers, Kenny. Songwriter Don Schlitz. “The Gambler.” Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Pub. LLC. WEB.