Episode 33: The Mosquito Coast

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Sean and Cody exchange bonny Scotland for the steamy rainforests of Honduras as they set course for this Peter Weir-directed 1986 drama, The Mosquito Coast. When insufferable motormouth and probable Libertarian kook Ally Fox (Harrison Ford) decides to move his long-suffering family (Helen Mirren, River Phoenix, Jadrien Steele et al.) to Central America to build a jumbo ice machine, Mother and the kids have little choice in the matter. But the harshness of life in the rainforest proves to be only the beginning of the family’s troubles, especially when Ally’s swelled head leads to some not-so-funny hijinx that nearly gets them all killed. Environmental issues discussed include the real-life history of the Miskitia region and its people, geothermal energy and climate change in Central America, intentional or “breakaway” communities, and our old friend the white savior complex, back for another bruising round.

In what countries are the real Mosquito Coast and why did it prove to be such a burr up the bum of the British, Spanish and Americans throughout history? Are Central Americans really sitting on a fortune in geothermal energy, as claimed in the film? What, and where, is Gaviotas and what does it have to do with this movie? Remember that time Ron Paul’s fans thought they were going to start their own town in the Texas desert where they wouldn’t have to pay taxes? Can Harrison Ford convincingly portray an abusive father? How did this picture end up being part of a big deck of role-swapping Pokemon cards involving Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson and Burt Reynolds? Why do Peter Bogdonavich and Paul Schrader always pop up whenever anyone starts doing cinema nerd white-guy takes on the importance of movies? Have you ever heard of Ninja brand chainsaws? All these questions and more are headed upriver in this mosquito-ey episode of Green Screen.

Content Warning: this episode contains discussion of psychological and physical abuse in a family setting.

Original 1986 trailer for The Mosquito Coast. Sorry for the crappy quality.
Early in the film The Mosquito Coast, Ally Fox (Harrison Ford) hassles a hardware store clerk (Jason Alexander) with a nativist harangue. The “Ninja chainsaw” gag, discussed in the episode, is visible in this scene.
Charlie Fox (River Phoenix) has a budding not-quite-romance with missionary’s daughter Emily (Martha Plimpton) in The Mosquito Coast. Both were promising young actors in 1986; Phoenix’s life would be tragically cut short seven years later.

Additional Materials About This Episode:

The History and the Environmental Issues

Craig L. Dozier, Nicaragua’s Mosquito Shore: The Years of American Presence (University of Alabama Press, 2002) (Amazon link):
https://www.amazon.com/Nicaraguas-Mosquito-Shore-American-Presence/dp/0817311904/

Alexander Richter, “SICA Sees Large Geothermal Development Potential in Central America,” ThinkGeoenergy.com, March 9, 2021:
https://www.thinkgeoenergy.com/sica-sees-large-geothermal-development-potential-in-central-america/

Isabel von Griesheim, “Promotion of Geothermal Energy in Central America,” GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit):
https://www.giz.de/en/worldwide/78071.html#:~:text=As%20part%20of%20the%20Pacific,estimated%20at%20over%206%2C000%20megawatts.&text=The%20economic%20use%20of%20geothermal,by%20problematic%20legal%20framework%20conditions.

“Costa Rica Has Only Used Renewable Energy for Electricity This Year,” IFLScience.com, March (?) 2015:
https://www.iflscience.com/environment/costa-rica-has-only-used-renewables-electricity-year/

Alan Weisman, “Nothing Wasted, Everything Gained: A Colombian Scientific Community’s Radical Experiment Becomes a Sustainable Way of Life,” Mother Jones, March/April 1998:
https://www.motherjones.com/politics/1998/03/nothing-wasted-everything-gained/

English-language website of Gaviotas, last updated 2012:
http://www.friendsofgaviotas.org/

Sean Munger, “Paradise Lost: The Libertarian Nightmare of Peter Weir’s ‘The Mosquito Coast,'” SeanMunger.com, January 29, 2015 (archive link):
https://web.archive.org/web/20170428131440/https://seanmunger.com/2015/01/29/paradise-lost-the-libertarian-nightmare-of-peter-weirs-the-mosquito-coast/

The Movie:

Lee Pfeiffer, The Films of Harrison Ford (Carol Publishing Group, 1996) (Archive.org link):
https://archive.org/details/filmsofharrisonf0000pfei/mode/2up

Walter Chaw, “‘The Mosquito Coast’ Sits Alongside ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘First Reformed’ in Paul Schrader’s Exploration of American Men Driven to Madness,” Decider.com, February 22, 2021:
https://decider.com/2021/02/22/mosquito-coast-at-35/

Link to Product Page for the “Go Hike The Canyon” T-shirt (worn by Harrison Ford throughout the film):
https://shopgrandcanyon.com/go-hike-the-canyon-t-shirt-more-colors/

mosquito coast screenshot 10

The “Ninja chainsaw” gag which appears at the beginning of the film. Jason Alexander is barely visible as the hardware store clerk.
Harrison Ford is interviewed in January 1987 by the British media regarding his work in The Mosquito Coast.
Trailer for the 2021 Apple TV series The Mosquito Coast. We do not discuss it in the episode, except to note that star Justin Theroux is the nephew of Paul Theroux, who wrote the 1982 novel on which both the series and the 1986 film are based.

The Mosquito Coast (1986) on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091557/
The Mosquito Coast (1986) on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/the-mosquito-coast/

Next Movie Up: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

The still associated with The Mosquito Coast is copyright (C) 1986 by the Saul Zaentz Company. Its inclusion here is believed to be permissible under fair use. We are not the uploader of any YouTube clips embedded here.

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