On the occasion of half a century since Columbus arrived on the shores of the continent we call America today, one of the most expensive European productions of all time was filmed, and the task was entrusted to the experienced Ridley Scott. It is interesting that along with this epic adventure drama, a film dealing with the identical theme “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery” by John Glenn (in which Marlon Brando played the great inquisitor Torquemada) appeared in cinemas, and “1492.” did well in European cinemas, earning almost 60 million dollars, while in America it went largely unnoticed.
And it is not a classic biographical-historical drama, but Scott’s film brings a somewhat romantic view of Columba and his discoveries. The context and zeitgeist are remarkably affected here, and we see here the Europe of the late Middle Ages ruled by fundamentalism and ignorance. These are the dark times of the Inquisition and the violent maintenance of the dogmas of the time, and everything that does not fit into the rhetoric prescribed by the Catholic Church is often paid dearly. One of these dogmas is that the Earth is flat, but the sailor from Genoa is one of those who are convinced that the Earth must be round.
I assume that everyone knows the story of Columbus and how he “discovered” America, and here Scott portrays this adventurer as a true visionary, a man of restless spirit whom practically no one believes. As soon as “1492: Conquest of Paradise” appeared, there were criticisms that the historical facts were not accurately presented, but primarily it is a film in which Scott tried to grasp the inner part of Columbus. What drove him and drove him towards the unknown, and that in moments when the main dogma was that God does not want to pass the grade. The very idea of going by ship into the unknown, a path that probably no one has traveled before, must cause a certain awe, and we will see here that the story unfolded quite differently from what Columbus expected.
So although we see Columbus in Gerard Depardieu’s somewhat pompous performance here as a dreamer, an idealist who wanted harmony between the colonizers and the natives, it is assumed that in reality this was not the case since he was soon removed from the position of governor due to accusations of excessive brutality. Scott decided on an epic representation of these historical events, which he later perfected in “Gladiator”, “Kingdom of Heaven” and the recent “The Last Duel”, and the representation of that for the Europeans of the new world, which at first they thought was Asia, almost is on the trail of magical realism. We look at this new world almost the way those newcomers saw it, as a mythical place inhabited by unusual people and a place that will enable them to become fabulously wealthy.
The desire for wealth, finding gold and similar valuables was probably also the main driver for many who went into the unknown with Columbus and later. The desire for fame, wealth, and the fundamentalist need to impose one’s own beliefs and outlook on life on other cultures were key in what followed in the decades and centuries after Columbus’s fateful landing on San Salvador. Whether what followed later was what Columbus dreamed and wanted while traveling the seas and fantasizing about the discoveries of new worlds, is the main question addressed by the film, which, despite criticism and occasional theatricality and exaggeration, is definitely worth watching.