“A Bitter Lime” is a variously funny to Kafkaesque movie about a rich and young but disenchanted First World couple leaving Los Angeles for Georgetown in Third World Guyana. A beautifully filmed and poetic movie, “A Bitter Lime” touches on escapism, existential angst, North-South, Man-Nature and love. Directed by Australian Max De Bowen (Max Orter) , “A Bitter Lime” is a potential cult movie for present young generations bored and disenchanted with corporatism and neoliberalism.
According to the Maxfilm website of the Australian director of the movie, Max De Bowen: “A young, wealthy but hopelessly bored couple abandons their posh corporate life in Los Angeles to escape to the Caribbean for what they hope to be a carefree life of excitement. Their risk-taking sense of adventure clashes with the relationship they’ve built together. A Bitter Lime is a Psychological-Drama Feature Film on the theme of escapism. It deals with that burning fantasy in the back of everyone’s mind: “What if I could just escape off to an exotic paradise?” A young, wealthy but hopelessly bored couple abandons their posh corporate life in Los Angeles to escape to the Caribbean for what they hope to be a carefree life of excitement. Their risk-taking sense of adventure clashes with the relationship they’ve built together. A Bitter Lime is a Psychological-Drama Feature Film on the theme of escapism. It deals with that burning fantasy in the back of everyone’s mind: “What if I could just escape off to an exotic paradise?” . For further comments by Max De Bowen (Max Orter) see his interview with the Guyana Chronicle .
The movie begins in Los Angeles where our hero (played by Canadian actor Georgie Deburas) is working for his lecherous father who demands a loyal presentation by his son on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the company. However when the occasion arrives the bored and alienated son destroys a huge and precarious display of filled champagne glasses and walks away from the horrified gathering in a scene reminiscent of the 1960s American classic of youth disenchantment and rebellion, “The Graduate”. Our hero goes to a travel agent and asks for a travel destination that would be the last place the agent would recommend – war-torn, US Alliance-occupied Somalia is rejected as too deadly and they settle on Guyana. Our handsome young hero and his beautiful African-American girl friend (played by African-American and Scotland-reared actress Raylin Christensen) leave busy, prosperous, First World Los Angels, USA, and arrive in tropical, impoverished, Third World Georgetown, Guyana.
There is a North meets South dimension to the movie that is most explicit when a Guyanan woman points out that, unlike herself, the rich American couple are free to go anywhere in the world they like, and when a cornered violent mugger offers the excuse that he has a wife and lots of children to support. There is a Man versus Nature dichotomy in this poetic movie through the re-appearance of solitary inquisitive monkeys who provide an unspoken commentary on the indulgence of the young humans, most notably when they are otherwise alone at a beautiful waterfall.
Without telling you too much, the romantic idyll ends after the young couple are violently mugged and robbed, with a suggestion that something worse might have happened to our heroine. Their passionate relationship is torn apart. The mood of the movie moves from happy and funny to the threatening, violent, desperate and Kafka-esque. The corrupt police chief (no doubt with a wife and lots of kids to support) is no use and our hero asks a gun-toting local for help in tracking down the muggers and his girlfriend’s possessions. In a dramatic scene the 2 men are fishing in a boat in a treeless, river delta landscape, and when our hero brings up a fish the gunman shoots it, producing a splat of red blood mid-air as in present-day ultra-violent Japanese and American movies.
For the rest, go see the movie. I was privileged to attend the Australian premiere of my friend Max’s “A Bitter Lime” at the Cinema Nova in Melbourne’s smart, intellectual, multi-cultural Lygon Street strip , a stone’s throw from the University of Melbourne in Carlton, Melbourne. This is a poetic movie that covers a lot of themes including youth alienation, restlessness and disenchantment; North versus South; Man versus Nature; and loving human relationships. A key element in the resolution of this drama – that deliberately has limited dialogue – are the written thoughts of the young woman in a loose diary in her stolen handbag, a dramatic statement of the power and fundamental importance of setting down what you think. Indeed a repeated key image that book-ends the movie is of a message in a Bitter Lime bottle washed up on a Caribbean beach.
William Shakespeare in “The Winter’s Tale” gets to the core of truth telling in the following exchange between Camillo, a Lord of Sicilia, who has been tasked by Leontes, King of Sicilia, to poison Polixenes, King of Bohemia, who is visiting Sicilia and who a madly jealous Leontes suspects of adultery with Hermione, Queen to Leontes:
“Polixenes: The king hath on him such a countenance as he had lost some province and a region loved as he loves himself … and so leaves me to consider what is breeding that changes thus his manners.
Camillo: I dare not know, my lord.
Polixenes: How! dare not! do not! Do you know, and dare not be intelligent to me? ‘T is thereabouts; for, to yourself, what you do know you must, and cannot say you dare not”.
“A Bitter Lime” is a beautifully constructed poem and a work of art. In particular it offers a snapshot of beautiful, tropical, multicultural, and poor but socially decent Guyana. However I am both a scientist and an artist, and can now put on my scientist’s laboratory coat and offer the following succinct, numbers-based intelligence about Guyana.
A succinct, avoidable mortality (excess mortality)-informed history of Guyana: pre-colonial Arawak people displaced by Caribs; late 15th century, Spanish exploration; 1616, Dutch fort built; 17th-18th century, British settlement, plantations with African slaves; 1815, British possession; 1763, British brutally suppressed slave revolt led by Cuffy; 1796, formal British rule; 19th century, abolition of slavery and indentured labour introduced from India, China and the East Indies; 1966, independence under conservative left Burnham; post-independence, US hostility to Guyana social democracy, Guyana-Venezuela territorial dispute; 1992-1997, Cheddi Jagan; 1997-1999, widow Janet Jagan president. 2001, Bharrat Jagdeo re-elected president. Foreign occupation: Netherlands, Britain (pre-1950); UK (post-1950); post-1950 foreign military presence: none; post-1950 excess mortality/2005 population = 0.086m/0.768m = 11.2%; post-1950 under-5 infant mortality/2005 population = 0.121m/0.768m = 15.8% .
Avoidable mortality from deprivation as a percentage of population is a remarkable 0.0% for Guyana (2003) as compared to 0.0% for Western countries, China, Japan and South Korea, 0.3% for South East Asia, 0.4% for South Asia, 0.6% for Indigenous Australians and 1.0% for non-Arab Africa, a testament to decent governance and 98% literacy in Guyana , despite a low GDP (nominal) per capita income of $4,040 for Guyana as compared to $62,290 for Australia, $54,306 for the US, $46,461 for the UK, and $1,586 for India (UN, 2014) .
There are of course downsides. Thus, just as the mugger in “A Bitter Lime” has a wife and numerous children to support, so impoverished Guyana is heavily dependent on deforestation. In terms of revised estimates of “annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution” taking land use into account, and expressed in units of “tonnes CO2-equivalent per person per year”, Guyana (203.1) ranks second to the world’s worst, Belize (366.9) .
To put this in context, here are listed revised annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution estimates for the world’s worst countries in tonnes CO2-e per person per year, the world average being 63.80 billion tonnes CO2-e / 7.137 billion people in 2013 = 8.9 tonnes CO2-e per person per year: Belize (366.9), Guyana (203.1), Malaysia (126.0), Papua New Guinea (114.7), Qatar (101.8), Zambia (97.5), Antigua & Barbuda (85.6), United Arab Emirates (82.4), Panama (68.0), Botswana (64.9), Liberia (55.0), Indonesia (53.6), New Zealand (53.2), Australia (52.9; 116 if including its huge GHG-generating exports), Nicaragua (51.2), Canada (50.1), Equatorial Guinea (47.5), Venezuela (45.2), Brazil (43.4), Myanmar (41.9), Ireland (41.4), United States (41.0), Cambodia (40.5), Kuwait (37.3), Paraguay (37.2), Central African Republic (35.7), and Peru (34.8) (by way of comparison , the lowest annual per capita polluters include Bangladesh (2.7), Pakistan (2.5), and India (2.1)) .
However, to be fair to Guyana, “annual per capita greenhouse gas pollution” per se is a flawed measure of national culpability for this because it ignores rich countries outsourcing industrial pollution to China, and impoverished countries like Guyana compelled to pollute to barely survive. A better measure of culpability is weighted annual per capita greenhouse gas pollution taking relative per capita income into account, this giving a score to Guyana of 76 whereas the polluters with the biggest scores on this basis include the world leaders Qatar (924) and United Arab Emirates (337) and the rich Anglosphere countries of Australia (307), Canada (234), New Zealand (219), the US (207), Ireland (207), and the UK (93), with India, Pakistan and Bangladesh each scoring a mere 0.3 .
Further, Guyana has a very high infant mortality. Thus under-1 infant mortality in units of “under-1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births” is 32.6 for Guyana as compared to 3.6 (Apartheid Israel ), 4.6 (Cuba) , 4.4 (the UK), 5.9 (the US), 9.9 (Fiji), 14.9 (the Apartheid Israel-blockaded Gaza Strip), 41.8 (India), 44.1 (Bangladesh), 55.7 (Pakistan), and 72.7 (Nigeria) . High deforestation and high infant mortality aside, Guyana has considerable social democratic (social humanist ) decency dedicated to maximizing the dignity, happiness and opportunity for everyone [8, 9]. One might hypothesize that this Guyanan socialist tradition stems from its slavery- or indentured labor-based past. The relative success of Fiji as a Developing Country derives from its history of Indian indentured labour (5-year slaves) under the British that led to centrist political activism by those eventually freed from indenture and their descendants (read “Tears in Paradise” by Rajendra Prasad) [10, 11].
As for the alienation of our hero and heroine in “A Bitter Lime”, there is every reason for them to be disillusioned with neoliberal capitalism that seeks to maximize the freedom of the smart and advantaged to exploit the natural and human resources of the world for private profit. My “baby boomer” generation (born in circa 1945) and possibly, if they are lucky, our children’s generation, are likely to be the last generations that have been better off than the previous generation. For most American workers, real wages (i.e. after taking inflation into account) have been flat for decades , while the One Percenter share of annual income has steadily increased [13, 14]. It is now too late to avoid a catastrophic plus 2 degrees Centigrade temperature rise and the “baby boomers” – or more properly their One Percenter rulers – have bequeathed worsening ecocide, speciescide and climate genocide to future generations with the prospect of omnicide and terracide through a worsening Climate Genocide. [15-18]. It is estimated that 10 billion people could perish this century if man-made climate change is not requisitely addressed . This immense, worsening intergenerational injustice  can be best quantitated in terms of an inescapable, damage-related Carbon Debt bequeathed to future generations – assuming a damage-related Carbon Price in USD of $200 per tonne CO2-equivalent from Dr Chris Hope, 90-Nobel-Laureate University of Cambridge , the World has a Carbon Debt of $360 trillion that is increasing at $13 trillion per year . However escapism is not the answer – the solution lies in Climate Revolution now .
In conclusion, “A Bitter Lime” is a beautifully filmed, poetic and at times funny movie about youth alienation, disenchantment, escapism, and existential angst, North-South, Man-Nature, and love. It deserves the prospect of becoming a cult movie for younger generations in a First World facing current transition to the Second World, and with the worsening Climate Emergency adumbrating transition to a Third World or worse existence.
. “A Bitter Lime”, Maxfilm, 2016: http://www.maxfilm.com.au/#!feature-film/cfvn .
. Jasmaine Payne, “Guyana: a microcosm of the world – A Bitter Lime director tells of his experience filming here”, Guyana Chronicle, 7 July 2016: http://guyanachronicle.com/guyana-a-microcosm-of-the-world-a-bitter-lime-director-tells-of-his-experience-filming-here/ .
. Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, that includes a succinct history of every country and is now available for free perusal on the web: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ .
. “List of countries by GDP (nominal) per capita”, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)_per_capita .
. Gideon Polya, “Revised Annual Per Capita Greenhouse Gas Pollution For All Countries – What Is Your Country Doing?”, Countercurrents, 6 January, 2016: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya060116.htm .
. Gideon Polya, “Exposing And Thence Punishing Worst Polluter Nations Via Weighted Annual Per Capita Greenhouse Gas Pollution Scores”, Countercurrents, 19 March, 2016: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya190316.htm .
. “List of countries by infant mortality rate”, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_infant_mortality_rate .
. Brian Ellis, “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” , Routledge , UK , 2012.
. Gideon Polya, “Book Review: “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” By Brian Ellis – Last Chance To Save Planet?”, Countercurrents, 19 August, 2012: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya190812.htm
. Rajendra Prasad, “Tears in Paradise. Suffering and struggle of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004”(Glade, Auckland, New Zealand, 2004).
. Gideon Polya, “Review: “Tears In Paradise. Suffering and Struggle Of Indians In Fiji 1879-2004” by Rajendra Prasad – Britain’s Indentured Indian “5 Year Slaves””, Countercurrents, 4 March, 2015: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya040315.htm
. “Real wages”, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_wages .
. Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-first Century”, Harvard, 2014.
. Gideon Polya, “Key Book Review: “Capital In The Twenty-First Century” By Thomas Piketty”, Countercurrents, 01 July, 2014: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya010714.htm ).
. “Are we doomed?”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/are-we-doomed .
. “Too late to avoid global warming catastrophe”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/too-late-to-avoid-global-warming .
. “Climate Genocide”: https://sites.google.com/site/climategenocide/ .
. “Climate Justice & Intergenerational Equity”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/climate-justice .
.. Dr Chris Hope, “How high should climate change taxes be?”, Working Paper Series, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, 9.2011: http://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/media/assets/wp1109.pdf .
. “Carbon Debt Carbon Credit”: https://sites.google.com/site/carbondebtcarboncredit/ .
. “Climate Revolution Now”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/climate-revolution .
Dr Gideon Polya taught science students at a major Australian university for 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text “Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds” (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London , 2003). He has published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ ); see also his contributions “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/australian-complicity-in-iraq-mass-mortality/3369002#transcript
) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/4047-the-plight-of-the-palestinians.html ). He has published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/ ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/social-economic-history/listen-the-bengal-famine ; Gideon Polya: https://sites.google.com/site/drgideonpolya/home ; Gideon Polya Writing: https://sites.google.com/site/gideonpolyawriting/ ; Gideon Polya, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gideon_Polya ) . When words fail one can say it in pictures – for images of Gideon Polya’s huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: http://sites.google.com/site/artforpeaceplanetmotherchild/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/gideonpolya/ .