Monday, December 25, 2006


This week's movie:

What if?

It is a documented fact that Napoleon spent the last years of his life in exile, on the island of St. Helena, under British supervision. Or did he? This movie posits a scheme in which the former emperor escapes exile, steals away to France, and regains his throne. All they need is to find an exact double to take his place.

The plan calls for an exact double to be brought in on a supply ship. A switch would be made and the real Napoleon to travel back, in disguise, on the same supply ship. Once in France, he would make contact with his supporters and reveal himself. At the same time, the fake Napoleon would reveal himself to be false. The old emperor would return to power, amass an army and defeat the English once and for all. Simple – foolproof! – right?

But wait! Let’s suppose that the double that you find is a deck hand on a ship, used to lots of very hard work. Let’s also suppose that once the switch is made, he decides that ‘it’s good to be the king’, even one in exile. After all, being waited on hand and foot and eating gourmet meals sure does beat swabbing the deck for gruel.

Such an elaborate plan, of course, requires absolute secrecy – you wouldn't want the English captors to get wind of it, therefore, the fewer people that know about it, the better. But what if the one contact, back in France, who is in on the plot ……… dies just before you get there. How could you convince anybody you are who you say you are ……/ especially when the lunatic asylums are filled with would-be Napoleons? The emperor would certainly have a tough road ahead of him. The question is, “Is it worth the bother?”

This movie has fun with this very scenario. How does the former dictator and absolute ruler of France deal with the prospect of living an ordinary life. Is such a thing even possible? …….. and, is any life really ordinary? The roles are perfectly cast – although I sometimes wonder about the logic of casting British actors in Frenchmen roles. It’s as if they’ve determined that all foreign accents are interchangeable to American audiences. Nevertheless, I bought the whole thing. Ian Holm gets Napoleon’s mannerisms just right. He brings great warmth and depth to the role and drives the entire film. It’s funny in many places, dramatic when it needs to be, and never, never boring. And besides, how do know it didn’t really happen this way?

The question you now have to ask yourself is, “What would you do if you were Napoleon in this situation?” Here are some suggestions.

  1. Go to Italy and hang out for a while in the coffee bars. Brag a little about being the emperor. Let the rumor mill do its work.
  2. Every loony claims to be Napoleon. Only top shelf loonies will claim to be Henri Poincaré, the great mathematician. Consider leaving the old life behind and go on the celebrity math circuit.
  3. You have a long road ahead of you if you want to retake France. Consider starting small. Start by conquering –er, let’s say Grasse (it’s a little town near the French Riviera). No one will notice right off, and, it’s close enough to Cannes that you could pop on over for the film festival if you had a mind, plus I understand that they serve a mean foie gras there.
  4. Become an actor. Make a bunch of screwball comedy films where you play an assortment of goofy characters. Maybe play opposite a handsome singer who gets all the ladies. He’s the romantic lead and you’re the foil. Then change your name to Jerry Lewis. You’ll have it made.
  5. Make a bunch of scathingly critical documentaries about American life and government. It will produce basically the same result as #4.
  6. Settle down and write your memoirs. Surely you must have some juicy tidbits about people still in power.
  7. These things have to be done in a certain order. In France, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women. ……… wait! What was the goal again?
  8. Make your way back to St. Helena. You and the double can have fun messing around with the British guards. The double can walk out of the room through one door while you simultaneously enter through another door. The guards would be like, “But ….. how …… but you just … over there, and now ……. How did you get over there so fast?” Hahahaha. Yes, a source of amusement for many years to come.
  9. There are all sorts of empires. Maybe you can run a dry-cleaning empire, be a drug czar, be a crime lord, a dancing queen, a dairy queen, an oil sheik, a burger king, prince spaghetti, general nuisance, a captain of industry, or the king of all media.
  10. Plan-B: Open up a pastry shop and bake Napoleons.

Watch THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES (not to be confused with Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove) with your whole family this week, and



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