Under the Volcano (1984)

under the volcano poster 1984 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Albert Finney

Feels like it goes on a bit long, story is largely interpretational

Movie Info

Movie Name: Under the Volcano

Studio: Conacite Uno

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s):  May 18, 1984 (Cannes)/June 13, 1984 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

under the volcano albert finney jacqueline bisset anthony andrews

I’m just debating how far you two have to go before the neckties turn into ascots

Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney) is in a dangerous tailspin. He’s trying to drink enough to keep functioning but forced to drink to keep off the shakes. His wife Yvonne (Jaqueline Bisset) has left him and he is tended to by his brother Hugh (Anthony Andrews) as he works as a consul in Quauhnahuac, Mexico in 1938. When Yvonne returns to reconcile their fractured relationship, a battle begins inside of Geoffrey that has resentment, anger, sadness, happiness, and more bubbling up…and being quenched with each drink. Geoffrey is on a dangerous path and an explosion is coming.

Directed by John Huston, Under the Volcano is a historical drama. Based on the 1947 semi-autobiographical novel by Malcolm Lowry, the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to positive reviews. It received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Finney) and Best Original Score. The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #410).

Under the Volcano was a blind watch. I like Finney, and I like Criterion so when it popped up on HBO, I thought I’d check it out. The movie was an actor’s movie for Finney, and the plot is largely interpretational…Under the Volcano has a story but provides few answers.

under the volcano carnival ride albert finney

I like life, life likes me. Life and I fully agree

The film is set in pre-World War II Mexico near Mexico City. This ends up factoring into the plot in that the sentiment between Mexico and Germany was tricky due to the Spanish Civil War and Germany was already seeking allies for Hitler’s regime. This combines with a man who is on a collision course with danger. Finney’s character can’t function sober but also can’t function drunk. He’s lost and failing…because of events in his life compounding upon his drinking. You watch Under the Volcano and realize that it isn’t going to end well no matter what happens. The movie provides few answers and it is mostly what the viewer takes away from it.

Finney is great at acting drunk. Going into the movie blind, I didn’t know anything about the characters or the plot, but Finney instantly showed his feathers. Acting says drunks don’t want to be betrayed as drunks, and Finney does a great job as someone who is drunk and trying (poorly) to hide it. He’s bolstered by a nice performance from Jacqueline Bisset who has a guilty conscious and his brother Anthony Andrews who tries his best to watch over his brother. The movie also has the scariest bar in history in the final sequence with a cast that creates a nightmare scenario of “going into the wrong place”.

under the volcano mexican bar

You walk into a bar in a small Mexican town and see this…you walk out…regardless where you are from

The movie also looks rather good. It is simple and early in the film makes good use of the Day of the Dead. The location tries to present a real world Mexico that isn’t always presented in movies and doesn’t depict the people in a way that feels as judgmental as some films…there are bad people and there are good people, and they like the same things as everyone else. Finney’s character due to his affliction can’t read the situation well.

Under the Volcano isn’t an easy movie and for that reason you could argue that it feels a little flimsy in plot. The viewer has to determine a lot of what occurs and what it means and will only take away as much as they put in. It is worth seeing for Finney’s great performance, and a different history of a time period that feels rather neglected in cinema…all in the shadow of the volcano.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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