24 August 2018| No Comments on Papillon     by Sean Chavel



The new 2018 Pappilon creates very little else to what was already done in the 1973 version that featured the unimprovable duo of Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman awash in a muddy netherworld. When that one came out, you felt as if you were really peeking in at the most inhumane prison system of the last two centuries, and the inherent drama had a harrowing pull to it. Even if the heroes escape, as they repeatedly attempt to do and met with ghastly consequences when caught, their souls have been vacuumed out to a speck. A prison system killing you physically on the outside until it sucks you dry from the inside was itself a distinctive hell on Earth, and that made for a compelling male weepie.

Charlie Hunnam as Henri Pappilon Charriere and Rami Malek as Louis Dega may add more shades of character and nuance as the remake replacements, but McQueen and Hoffman had their ambiguities and therefore more mystery to them. I don’t know, there was something more tear-inducing where those McQueen and Hoffman losers, in an unspoken way, act as if they deserve their fate. There is an alluring prologue in this version that the original didn’t have that shows Pappilon as a hustler in Paris, in love with his girlfriend and skating the edge of respectability, living a fast and wild life, before he is abruptly framed for a murder. Why not tell us more what that murder was about and why the police gave up looking for the right suspect? Never mind.

From there, Papillon is sent to a penal colony in French Guiana where hard labor and suffering go hand and hand, and he meets up with the wealthy Louis Dega – easy to make friends with him since he is hiding money up his rectum. The two try to defy their circumstances by either winning favor with the guards or hatching hasty plans for escape that inevitably lead to gross stints in solitary confinement. Eventually they are transported to rot at Devil’s Island.

There is a final scene not in the original, with Papillon in a suit as he flies to Paris so he can hand over his memoirs (first turned into a book, and then the movie). But these scenes are nothing that I couldn’t have imagined for myself without having to see them. Why not say something more about his revisit? The director Michael Noer has claimed his primary interest in remaking the movie was to emphasize the “love story,” to say Papillon would have never made it without Dega to push him on. Huh? That was clearly stated in the original, too. I suppose in Noer’s mind, and his mind only, it wasn’t in the original.

If you have never seen the original then there’s a chance here that you will be strung along by the intrigue of this prison hell and even be willing to put up with the clunkiness of its storytelling structure just to know what the French penitentiary system was like for irredeemable misfits of society.

133 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Papillon” (1973); “Escape From Alcatraz” (1979); “Hunger” (2008, Great Britain”); “A Prophet” (2009, France).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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