10 BEST LOST-IN-A-FOREIGN-COUNTRY MOVIE CHARACTERS
10. DAVID LOCKE (Jack Nicholson); The Passenger (1975)
Travel may be defined by leaving one’s established location. For some, it offers an opportunity to also leave oneself.
David Locke (Nicholson) is a cynical American journalist stuck in a North African desert struggling to make a documentary on political rebels. After a frustrating day of failure and now back at his sandy ramshackle hotel, he finds his new Englishman friend in the next room has suddenly died. Wanting a change, he decides to check out of the hotel, but only after stealing the Englishman’s passport and identity. As the movie trailer cliché goes “he would soon find out that he got more than he bargained for”. Finding an appointment book in the Englishman’s belongings, he soon goes on a bizarre, rather subdued (for Nicholson) adventure through urban Barcelona and the dusty Spanish desert. David Locke would tragically find out that living in a fantasy also carries great responsibility.
9. THOMAS JEROME NEWTON (David Bowie); The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
A character as bizarre as the world he falls to, T.J. Newton (Bowie) is a humanoid alien who crashes to earth while studying our lovely planet in order to bring water back to his own home planet. How many travelers out there have ever found themselves in the same situation? Hm?
Eventually, lured by the temptations of our planet (that’s Earth), Newton succumbs to alcohol and TV. As a science fiction movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth spends a long time studying the misplaced character of Newton. Bowie is comfortable in the role, being frail, otherworldly and awesome in each scene.
8. PAUL (Bruno Ganz); In the White City (1983)
Have you ever suddenly bought a ticket to a place you know nothing about? Ever felt the urge to hop off a train before your reaching your destination?
Paul (Ganz) wants to lose all obligations. Paul wants to spend his days watching ships go by through the faded curtains of his bare hotel room. Paul wants to eat, sleep and get drunk whenever he pleases. Paul (Ganz) is a German sailor who jumps ship in Lisbon, Portugal.
While in Lisbon, he has an affair with the bartender at his hotel. Meanwhile, he sends his wife mundane but observant Super 8 videos of the “white city” that he makes with his camera. Not a whole lot else happens. If you look closely enough at the ordinary, it can sometimes become extraordinary.
7. CHEWBACCA; (Star Wars, 1977)
Loyal, sensitive, emotive and known by friends simply as “Chewie”, Chewbacca is everyone’s favorite wookie expat, forever following Han Solo throughout the universe and beyond.
6. BOB HARRIS (Bill Murray); Lost in Translation (2003)
Bob Harris (Murray), like Rick Blaine, is another displaced character with a deep sense of emptiness. Not particularly enjoying his new location and not particularly wanting to go home. Unlike Blaine, Harris isn’t living in a warzone, but rather a posh Tokyo hotel surrounded by all the quirks of modern-day Japan. He’s there to shoot a whiskey commercial for a high salary. Similarities between Blaine and Harris abound; in fact, in one scene, the Japanese director of the commercial asks him to channel Bogart in Casablanca.
Bob Harris is stuck in the same kind of purgatory that Geoffrey Firmin or Rick Blaine inhabit: the conduit between home and hell, waiting to fall into the latter.
5. GEOFFREY FIRMIN (Alfred Finney); Under the Volcano (1984)
Geoffrey Firman (Finney) is essentially a literary character, but Finney brings him to life in an extraordinary performance directed by John Huston. Firman is living, or dying, in the fictional Mexican town of Quauhnahuac. The film takes place over one day in his life. We are introduced to Firman as he is wandering, exaggeratingly upright, through the town market on the evening of El Dia de la Muerte- making friends with a stray dog, standing up to a Nazi, rambling to a bartender, passing out face down in the street, and later gaining and losing everything in a brothel. Like some other characters in the list, he is going nowhere, but cannot go back to where he was.
4. KAREN BLIXEN (Meryl Streep); Out of Africa (1985)
Unlike the displaced men on this list, Blixen (Streep) is well-adjusted, driven and ambitious. She has just moved with her husband from England into British East Africa (today Kenya). She likes her new home and has a good relationship with the locals. Blixen begins to realize the ethical implications of her and her husbands’ move to Africa.
3. DAVID SUMNER (Dustin Hoffman); Straw Dogs (1971)
In the same vain as other expats, Sumner (Hoffman) is an American mathematician who does not know which direction to trust. He has left his American university to escape, with his wife, the craziness of anti-war protests and to settle in Wakely, a fictional rural village in Cornwall, in the southwest of England. Sumner quickly falls under the taunting of the local yokels, mostly due to his academic pursuits, lack of traditional masculinity, and their jealousy over his gorgeous young wife. Tension continues to build, ultimately leading to a violent climax that would go on to influence the attack scenes of Home Alone, minus the Three Stooges humor. Of all the expats on this list, Sumner goes on to be the only one who smashes someone’s head in with a fireplace poker. I suppose there could be some kind of metaphor for travel there?
2. PRINCE AKEEM JOFFER (Eddie Murphy); Coming to America (1989)
An unhappy prince and his personal aide leave their luxurious life in Africa to find the perfect queen in a magical place called Queens. Determined to live a humble life and find a woman who will love him for who he really is, Prince Akeem takes work at the McDowell’s fast food restaurant and acclimates as best as he can into his gray surroundings.
1. RICK BLAINE (Humphrey Bogart); Casablanca (1942)
Like many expats, Rick Blaine (Bogart) has a mysterious past that he can’t return to. The mysterious past of Rick Blaine is never really revealed, but we do see him revisit his idealistic and passionate past self at the end of the film.
In Casablanca, Morocco, Rick manages Rick’s Café Americaine, which is frequented by Nazis, refugees and revolutionaries. We get to know him as the sullen observer who has become cynically neutral and detached. In the end, Rick’s sentimentality and ideology return and he continues to move on.