Posted: 04/25/2010



by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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In Disgrace, John Malkovich plays David Lurie, an arrogant, affluent, esteemed professor at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, who has a penchant for younger women. But through a series of missteps, he goes from a debonair womanizer to a crumpled outcast living in the farmlands of South Africa and wondering how he got that way, as well as wondering just what his place is as a white man living intimately among South African blacks in the post-Apartheid country.

Disgrace, coming April 27 to DVD and Blu-ray from Image Entertainment, is based on the best-selling Booker Prize-winning novel by 2003 Nobel Prize Laureate J.M. Coetzee. The movie charts the tumultuous path when forbidden desires tragically collide with social and racial prejudices.

After having yet another affair with one of his students, who is Indian, things become too much and David is asked to retire from his position. He’s lived an affluent life in Cape Town, and has now been ordered to an inquiry by his peers. Even during this inquisition, he takes control and doesn’t allow much delving into his personal life. He merely admits guilt and asks for his punishment. He’s stripped of his teaching authority and must now go into the farthest reaches of the county to live with his daughter Lucy, played by Jessica Haines, who owns a farm.

Lucy lives a laid-back, carefree life, where she makes a living breeding dogs and selling flowers and other items at the local market. She also shares her land with a black farmer. He will eventually own his parcel, and this isn’t the way David remembers it when whites were the majority rule. David seems to resent the fact that she’s so cozy with the black farmer, who can come into the house at will, drink beer and watch the television. The farmer, named Petrus, soon brings his girlfriend to live with him, and he begins to erect a fence around his property.

After a few days, tragedy strikes, when Lucy and David are victimized by three local teens who shoot the family dogs, attempt to set David ablaze and brutalize Lucy inside the house.
David is remorseful because he couldn’t help Lucy, and he’s also confused by her behavior after the attacks, as she doesn’t want to call the police and she seems content to just go on with life, as if nothing has happened.

David, on the other hand, further resents Petrus and learns that one of the young men involved in the attack is related to his bride to be. David can’t grasp the independence with which Petrus carries on his daily life and the fact that he can actually own land that abuts his daughter’s. It’s uncertain whether David is racist or whether the idea that now he can’t even buy peace of mind is eating away at him. Eriq Ebouaney plays Petrus, and Fiona Press plays Bev, who owns an animal shelter and enlists David’s help in more ways than one.

Disgrace is an appropriate title, as it’s a disgrace that David so nonchalantly entertains affairs with his students; it’s a disgrace that he’s forced to trade a life of luxury for one of forced acceptance with his daughter; it’s a disgrace that his daughter is violated and seems to accept that as part of life; and it’s a disgrace that David, for all his misgivings, is torched and left for dead by the young gang. But the final disgrace may be the analogy between his daughter’s unsolicited attack and the situations with which David put his young liaisons. I really enjoyed this movie; Malkovich is such an intense actor in this story of survival from one’s circumstances and hope that the future can be brighter, amid so much brutality and despair.

Disgrace is available April 27 on DVD and Blu-ray and also available via digital download at Visit

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.

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