From time to time, I find a movie that is so surprising in its beauty, sensuality, and uniqueness that I wonder why I have never seen it or heard of it before. One of those movies is Sheltering Sky, based on the novel of the same name by Paul Bowles. It stars Debra Winger and John Malkovich, and was released in 1990. Sheltering Sky tells the story of three American travelers adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa following World War II.
Malkovich’s character, Port Moresby, is a composer. The couple’s companion, George Turner (played by Campbell Scott), is a bon vivant and is not–so-secretly in love with Winger’s character, Kit Moresby. It soon becomes clear that all is not well with the Moresby’s relationship and that they are trying to recapture meaning in their marriage. They find themselves pitted against cultures and environments so utterly different from what they are used. Ultimately, they are all forced to go deeply within and shed the conventions they’ve been brought up with.
The desert itself is an important character in the movie and novel. The light and cinematography are all spectacular, a visual feast. (Bernardo Bertalucci directed this film as well as The Last Emperor and The Last Tango in Paris, which gives you an idea of the cinematography in this film.) I hadn’t seen Debra Winger in a role in many years. What a treat to see her beauty and her depth as an actress. Paul Bowles, the author of the book, also plays a role in the movie—a solitary conscience commenting on the overarching themes in the movie.
It’s impossible to hit the highlights of this story because it’s so completely unusual. But what I will say is that the movie is beautiful, gritty, and very sensual. I now have the book in my hands. I’ve been told that Kit Moresby’s travels with the Tuareg caravan are covered in far more depth in the book and I’m looking forward to more. From what I saw in the movie, I’m in for a most unusual read.
One more thing: When I posted a quick note about this movie on my Facebook page, one of my community members posted this quote about Debra Winger: “…Debra Winger referenced an automobile accident that left her blind and paralyzed before she vowed that, if she ever recovered, she would go into acting…”
‘I was never afraid of failure after that because, I think, coming that close to death you get kissed. With the years, the actual experience of course fades, but the flavor of it doesn’t. I just had a real sense of what choice do I have but to live fully?’ – Debra Winger
If this isn’t the essence of flourishing, I surely don’t know what is! Knowing this about Winger has enhanced my enjoyment of this unique book and film.