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The Chocolate War
IMDB Rating: 6.9/10 from R votes
Release: 18 Nov 1988 /

The Chocolate War

Genre: Drama
Director: Keith Gordon,
Stars:
Synopsis: A surreal portrait of a Catholic Private School and its hierarchy. A new student must submit to the bizarre rituals of his peers and the expectations of the school's administration by ...

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Critic Reviews

I went into this film expecting yet another inspirational story about an individual triumphing over the oppressive system. Instead, this film is a lot deeper than that... and a lot darker. It is at once a film about the horror of conformity and the deadening pointlessness of resistence.

Our young protagonist, Renault, still agonizing over the death of his mother, is given a right-of-passage style task by his school's secret society, run by the calculating and elagantly power-hungry Archie : To refuse to sell chocolates to boost school income for 10 days (an activity Brother Leon, the equally power-hungry John Glover, is pushing on the students with unexpected zeal). But when his ten days are up, he still refuses to bend to the will of a system that wants only to use him as a tool. Both Archie and Brother Leon then use every method in their power to keep this rebel without a cause from toppeling them from power.

Simple enough, but this, as I said, is not a simple film about fighting the powers that be. The protagonist actually has little to say about his own action: he's so opaque that it seems even HE doesnt know exactly what he's rebelling against, just that he can't give up. He doesnt really know what he's doing, and as his life is made more and more awful by Archie and Brother Leon, it becomes increasingly clear he doesn't enjoy it either. He simply feels compelled to, and stoically refuses to give in, despite the obvious pointlessness of his rebellion and the cruel consequences that ensue. But this makes for a very hard hero to identify with and root for.

In fact, most of the film revolves around Archie and his attempt to break Renault's will. Archie is very talkative, and in fact the camera seems oddly attracted to his mercilessness, elegance and charisma, even as we assume we're supposed to revile him. Even creepy John Glover plays his villain very straight, giving only a vague, intangible sense of menace. By creating a hero we can't understand and villians we gravitate towards, the film subtly creates a situation where we can't really take sides, and can only observe the pathetic hopelessness of both situations. After all, this is all about selling CHOCOLATES. This throws the entire proceedings into an almost absurdist light. Light touches of humor (including a brief but spot-on perfect cameo by "Harold and Maude"'s Bud Cort) reinforce this classification and keep the proceedings from ever becoming bogged down in their gloominess.

All in all, though, The Chocolate War is a very dark, slightly surreal tale of the emptiness of life, for winners or losers. It suggests that, fight the system or succeed with it, you're still just a tool of larger forces, unflinchingly puppeteering smaller lives for their own banal ends. It offers no solutions and no salvations, not for anyone. Just hubris and humiliation, and perhaps a grim chuckle or two along the way. Its this demenor that makes it a truly overlooked and rather unique cinema gem, well - worth some time and thought.

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