For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)

credit: en.wikipedia.orgGary Cooper spends the night in a cave on top of a mountain while he waits to blow up a bridge. He probably would have got more sleep if it wasn’t for the cutthroat group of Spanish insurgent-republican-guerilla-gypsies who also happened to be in the cave at the time.


So this was another Netflix gamble. It’s about three hours long, so you might have to scotch tape your eyelids open — though they could have cut this movie down to about 25 minutes if they got rid of that really long prelude at the beginning which leaves you sitting in the dark wondering if watching this movie was actually a good idea.

The first half of the film does move a bit slow, but I liked it. It was also nominated for nine academy awards, if you care.

It was based on the Ernest Hemingway novel, written about three years before the movie came out. In fact, Hemingway handpicked Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman for the leading roles. Both great choices.

OH, SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW: Since the story takes place in the middle of Spain’s civil war, there is a bit of violence in this one — particularly one part where an angry mob tosses a couple of guys off a cliff and their motionless bodies smash into the rocks below. (Though I could tell the bodies were obviously dummies thanks to the clear picture on my new LaserDisc.)

I won’t spoil the ending, but while this is a love story, it’s also a story about mortality and sacrifice, which is why I love the title Hemingway chose for this story. It was based on these eloquent words penned by John Donne:

No man is an island, 
Entire of itself. 

credit: garycooperscrapbook.proboards.comEach is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

In the old days, they used to ring a bell announcing the death or funeral of somebody, so when Donne says “send not to know for whom the bell tolls” he is basically saying, “Don’t bother to ask around about who just died because it was you.”

I believe Donne — and Hemingway —were not merely teaching the truth that we are all indeed mortal, but that our lives are inextricably and inescapably intertwined with one another’s, and that there is a bond that should exist among this mortal civilization that drives us to sacrifice our time, our means, or our own lives if necessary, when evil or injustice threatens those around us — especially when that threat does not directly impact our own day-to-day lives.

Indeed, no man is an island.

There are causes foreign to our own immediate circumstances worth sacrificing for. And blessed is the man (and when I say “man” I of course mean “man/woman”) — blessed is the man who makes sacrifices for the good of “mankind,” for when we serve one another, we are serving God.

Our contributions, great or small, are not going unnoticed, and will be made known to all when the Son of Man comes once again to the sons of mankind.

“He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” – Matthew 10:39

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