Hemingway and Gellhorn (2012)





Director:     Philip Kaufman. 

Starring:     Nicole Kidman (Martha Gellhorn), Clive Owen (Ernest Hemingway), David Strathairn (John Dos Passos), Rodrigo Santoro (Paco Zarra), Molly Parker (Pauline Hemingway), Parker Posey (Mary Welsh Hemingway), Tony Shalhoub (Mikhail Koltsov), Santiago Cabrera (Robert Capa), Lars Ulrich (Joris Ivens), Peter Coyote (Maxwell Perkins), Joan Chen (Madame Chiang Kai Shek), Saverio Guerra (Sidney Franklin), Mark Pellegrino (Max Eastman), Remy Auberjonois (John Ferno), Anthony Brandon Wong (Chou En-lai).

love affair between two war correspondents, Hemingway and Gellhorn



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

War correspondent Gellhorn is an old woman now and she is telling her life story to an interviewer. She says basically that she is addicted to action: "I've always felt most at home in the most difficult places."

Flasback. She thinks back to Ernest Hemingway fishing for a sail fish around Key West, Florida. He gets a strike and fights to bring the fish in. He succeeds in that and stands over the fish on the boat deck saying: "Everything dies."

Gellhorn was in Key West with his mother and brother on a family tri0p after her father died. They went into a bar called Sloppy Joe's. In the bar Hemingway is posing with his dead sail fish for photographs. He keeps kissing the fish. Hemingway looks terrible and this is what occurs first to Gellhorn.

Her brother pops out with: "God! That's Ernest Hemingway." Gellhorn goes over to the bar and starts talking to Hemingway. He asks her name and she tells him she's Martha Gellhorn. They compete to impress each other.

They both know the same Italian song: "Everybody Tells You You're Blonde". She starts singing the song and he joins in with her. He asks her if the bar's rough clientele scares her? She says no. She just got in from Berlin and the Nazis are the ones that scare her.

She is really pouring it on. She says she has known Eleanor Roosevelt her whole life. So Hemingway asks to see the one review that every writer always has with him or her. She pulls out the review and Hemingway starts reading it aloud. She pulls the review from his hands when he reads the sentence comparing Gellhorn to Hemingway.

Gellhorn goes over to Hemingway's house and is greeted by Mrs. Pauline Hemingway, his wife. Pauline is almost immediately jealous of the blonde Gellhorn. She escorts the blonde into a room where the writer John Dos Passos is presenting a film dealing with the war in Spain known as the Spanish Civil War (July 1936 to April 1939).

Dos Passos says that Hitler and Mussolini are literally throwing money and weapons to Franco and his fascists. He says they have to get out the news of the terrible things the fascists are doing to those Spaniards who believe in democracy.

The Russians are also in Spain, but they support the Spanish republicans. He points out a Russian journalist known as Mikhail Koltsov. The director of the film, the Dutch documentarian, Joris Ivens, says the Koltsov is the eyes and ears of Stalin. The director wants to go back to Spain and complete his film.

Dos Paso introduces a Spanish Republican and his very dear friend, Professor Paco Zarra, to the audience. The professor urges the audience to help support the cause of the Spanish republicans. Mrs. Hemingway is not so sure she likes that and says that she has heard about some terrible deeds committed against the Catholics by the republicans. Gellhorn says she finds those stories hard to believe.

The professor asks Hemingway to come to Spain with him. Mrs. Hemingway tries to squash that idea, so the professor asks Gellhorn about going to Spain. Gellhorn says that the Spanish Civil War is just a dress rehearsal for a second world war. She will go.

Gellhorn is on a train in Spain with a knapsack and about $50 dollars. She works for the magazine Collier's and got herself appointed war correspondent even though she had never written a word about war.

Gellhorn is surrounded men men of the international brigades going to fight the fascists and she comments that she loved them immeasurably.

Hemingway and his trustworthy assistant set off for Spain. Mrs. Hemingway is not happy. He and his assistant take a flight to Spain in first-class plus.

In a Spanish bar Dos Passos, the documentarian and the profess talk about beating the fascists. And in comes Hemingway like a conquering hero. Many of the people in the bar already know Hemingway. Koltsov comes over to introduce himself and say it's an honor to meet the great American writer.

A Russian tank comes rolling up to the Hotel America and stops. Two international brigades fighters get out of the tank, followed by none other than Gellhorn. Hemingway is right there to greet her.

Hemingway introduces Gellhorn to photographer Frank Capa, a Hungarian war photographer.

Hemingway makes Gellhorn furious when he locks her in her hotel room. When he returns, she calls him a bastard. He says he was only protecting her from being raped.

In the morning Hemingway and his associates burst into Gellhorn's room while she's still in bed. There is a parade of republican forces outside and they want to film and photograph it. The Marseillaise Battalion from France marches by. Then they spot Papineau from Canada. Then comes the American Abraham Lincoln brigade.

A little later Gellhorn throws on some clothes and follows Hemingway and the guys out on the streets to see the parade up close. Hemingway yells to her and she runs to get on the back of the truck with the others.

From the back of the truck they film and photograph the parade. [Real film footage is used for the parade scenes.]

After the parade, the truck heads out toward the front. It stops by an irrigation project. Hemingway resents having to stop. He is anxious to film the war that is going on. A bit later Koltsov comes driving up in a fancy limousine complete with a driver.

On horseback Paco comes racing up with some of his men to tell the crew that there's ffighting just five kilometers from here. He urges the crew to follow him. They gladly follow Paco. Dos Passos says he is staying at the irrigation project.

From firing positions behind a stone wall the director films Paco in action firing at the fascist forces. Riding back from the fighting Koltsov asks Paco to get into his car because they need to talk. Paco obliges him. As soon as Paco gets in the back seat, Koltsov gets in and tells the driver to get going.

Back at the hotel bar, Hemingway is drinking and telling funny stories. Dos Passos is worried because Paco has not returned. Koltsov returns to the bar, but there is no sign of Paco.

Gellhorn confesses to Capa that she is having trouble with writer's block. They are interrupted by old General Petrov of the Soviet Union. He asks Gellhorn if she will dance with him. Gellhorn doesn't want to dance, but the General just keeps insisting. Hemingway tells the General to back off, referring to him as "General Caviar".

The General won't back down so Hemingway challenges him to a game of Russian roulette. Koltsov rushes in with a bottle of vodka saying that the men should have a drink of vodka before they die. The cools off the dispute.

Back to the present. The older Gellhorn says that the war was a crazy war because in Madrid they could take a streetcar to the front. The explosion of mortar shells were heard all around.

Flashback. At the bar an explosion break out some of the windows in the joint. Gellhorn runs across the street to save a little boy whose mother just got killed. Hemingway scolds her for rashness, but then comments to another man: "Bravest woman I ever saw."

At night Gellhorn watches as Hemingway, standing up, types very fast on his typewriter that has been placed on top of a chest of drawers. He scolds her for not writing anything. He suggests that she is not a war correspondent but a war tourist. When she says she can't write because she doesn't know enough about the situation, he gets angry and tells her to get into the ring and start throwing punches for what she believes in.

This, of course, upsets Gellhorn, but she does start typing away on an article about the war. She is stopped by the sound and feelings of explosions hitting the the hotel. Hemingway grabs her and tells her they have to go. They start running around to escape the explosions until he protects her by pinning her up against a wall. That gets him thinking sexual and soon they are having intercourse on a bed. (brief nudity)

Gellhorn sees the many scars on Hemingway's body and asks about each one. For the worst scar Hemingway tells her that he got it in World War I in Italy from an Austrian mortar shell explosion that left him with 227 pieces of shrapnel. The three Italians with him had their legs blown off. For this he was given an award with three citations.

Back on the battlefield in 1936 Frank Capa took a picture of a "Falling Soldier" that later became famous. [The actual photograph is believed to have been staged.] Hemingway says some words in the ear of a dying soldier as Gellhorn watches and realizes that she is in love with the famous writer. Hemingway grabs a rifle and charges when the republicans charge the fascists and Gellhorn runs after him yelling out his name.

After the battle Gellhorn goes searching for Hemingway. The hotel lobby has been turned into a hospital. Capa tells her that Hemingway is over in the corner talking to Koltsov. Gellorn starts to wander closer to the two men.

Koltsov says that Moscow sees Paco as a spy. Moscow does not trust Paco because his brother is a colonel who work with Franco. Hemingway is upset about this, so Koltsov assures Hemingway that Paco will get a fair trial. This just makes Hemingway more uneasy.

Koltsov also tells Heminway that the Soviets control all access for the journalists to the Spanish republican brigades, but this Dos Passos fellow is making it harder to keep letting the journalists to have future access. Heminway defends Dos Passos as being a hard anti-fascist, but Koltsov is referring Dos Passos being in love with Paco Zarra. Koltsov wants Hemingway to say something to Dos Passos to get him to shut up about the whereabouts of Paco and act more like someone that Hemingway would write about.

Hemingway walks out of the hotel ignoring Dos Passos when he asks him if Koltsov said anything about Paco. As narrator, Gellhorn says that two years later Koltsov was arrested in a purge in Moscow and sentenced to death.

Hemingway and Gellhorn are now in New York City working on the finishing of the documentary about the Spanish Civil War. He gets furious at the narrator, Orson Welles, for the film and takes over the job himself.

Dos Passos intervenes complaining that the switch in narrators is not right. He starts whining and delaying the film progress. He then asks why have they taken the shots of Paco completely out of the film? This leads to a confrontation with Hemingway, who finally tells Dos Passos: "Nobody says a coward can't make a great writer." Dos Passos is stunned and embarrassed. He leaves the studio.

Gellhorn, as narrator, says that after the Spanish Civil War Dos Passos changed. Because of what happened to Paco, he moved to the right of the political spectrum.

The film "Spanish Earth" is presented and Hemingway is there to speak to the audience as the writer of the screen play. Two FBI agents come into the theater to sit down as Hemingway is talking.

The director of the film comes out and introduces Martha Gellhorn to the audience. Gellhorn signals that she doesn't want to come out and speak to the crowd, but it's too late. She goes up and handles herself very well.

Hemingway is busy getting drunk. He hears a film critic criticize the narration of the film and that puts Hemingway in a fighting mood. He calls the critic over to him and tells him that he resents the criticism of the critic of his recent book: "His talent's been outstripped by fear of his flagging masculinity." He goes on to quote another comment and then attacks the critic with his fists. This gets both Hemingway and Gellhorn's picture in the paper.

Pauline Hemingway sees it and asks her husband, doesn't he know that adultery is a sin? She refuses to give him a divorce. Then she really gives it to him verbally criticizing his need to prove his masculinity to everyone. Hemingway's second wife goes on to tell him that Gellhorn will just leave him a broken man.

At a party, Hemingway has a drinking contest with some of the menl. Gellhorn wants to compete with him and win. Later she tells him she won because since she has much less body weight than he has.

Franco wins the Spanish Civil War, much to the disappointment of Hemingway and Gellhorn.

As narrator Gellhorn says: "After Spain, I felt such despair for the human race. . . . Spain really broke my heart." The fascists won.

After a morning talk about morning writers such as Hemingway, the sleepy Gellhorn wonders how he can do it after a night of hard drinking. They have sex. (brief nudity) After sex, she tells him the Collier's wants her to go to Finland. Stalin is expanding west and the Russians are bombing civilians. He, however, doesn't want to go. He tells her: "Marty, stay here with me." She asks him to come with her.

The next scene we find Gellhorn in Finland. She reads a letter from Hemingway who says he really misses her.

Gellhorn comes to to the house in Cuba. Hemingway is playing cards with the guys. She complains that she was missing him and now she comes home to a Tijuana whore house. He grabs a document and shows it to her. He got a divorce. And now he wants to get married. Gellhorn responds: "I have a horror or marriage. You know that."

An article in a paper says that Hemingway weds magazine writer Martha Gellhorn in Cheyenne, Wyoming in a private ceremony. Their plans are to honeymoon in New York.

While in New York, Gellhorn breaks that news that Collier's wants to send her to China. Hemingway says: "Christ, here she goes again."

Gellhorn convinces Hemingway to go with her. She has a special guide named Mr. Ma. They visit an opium den. She washes her hands off. Too late, Mr. Ma tells her not to use the water. It's very bad.

Mr. Ma has gotten an interview for Hemingway and Gellhorn with Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek. Gellhorn really gives a harsh, but true, commentary on how unfair is Chinese society.

In a busy market place, a Western woman tells Gellhorn: "Zhou Enlai wants to meet you and Hemingway." Gellhorn tells Hemingway and they decide to ditch Mr. Ma.

They walk and the woman rushes them into a carriage. She asks the couple to wear blindfolds. Unbeknownst to the couple, Mr. Ma is following them. The couple is now taken by boat to the meeting place with Zhou Enlai.

The communist leader tells Gellhorn to tell her friend Eleanor Roosevelt that Chiang Kai Shek is a thing of the post. The communists will be the victors. He leaves because he has to help with the fight against their Japanese invaders. But how will the couple get back home? Zhou defers to Mr. Ma. That shocks the Hemingways.

When the Hemingway get back to American they tell Eleanor and the President that the communists will win in China. For that they were labeled fellow travelers of the communists. Gelhorn didn't care, but Hemingway did. He didn't want the government thinking of him as a pinko. She says: "I believe it made him extra patriotic."

Hemingway and his buddies got approved by the government to be patriotic German U-boat hunters. Gellhorn is disgusted that he hasn't written anything in a long time. In turn Hemingway gets mad at her. She tells him that there's going to be an Allied invasion and she needs to be there. He tells her that he already has a commitment to be at the invasion. But the real surprise is that Hemingway is going as the war correspondent for Collier's. She tells him: "You took my job." She starts crying and call him an asshole. She quotes Dos Passos to him. Dos Passos said that Hemingway was a self-serving bastard. Hemingway slaps her across the face for that remark. She gets in the car and drives away.

Gellhorn dresses as a nurse and gets on a hospital ship. This gets her in on the Normandy Invasion, June 6, 1944. Her articles appear in Collier's. Hemingway seems to have a girlfriend now who is a real homebody -- a more traditional woman who primarily wants to please her husband. He reads her article in Collier's. Her name is Mary Welsh.

Driving with Mary from the bar in the rain, Hemingway has a car accident. In Europe, Gellhorn learns of the accident and she comes back home for a visit. In the hospital she finds Hemingway having a high old time with his buddies and Mary, who has a broken arm.

She turns to leave, but Hemmingway spots her and tells her to come in. He tells everyone that his wife is married to war, not to him. She looks very disappointed in him. He asks her if she didn't come to gloat, then why did she come? She says: "I guess . . . Guess I just came by for a divorce." She leaves. He gets out of bed and follows her to her hotel. He says he loves her and wants another chance with her. But they argue again and she closes the door on him saying: "It's over . . . . That's enough."

Gellhorn is back on a ship heading back to Europe. She really gets a shock when she goes to visit the concentration camp at Dachua. And then she saw Auschwitz. She ran away into the woods and cried for the night.

Hemingway is back to fishing for sailfish. But this time he doesn't bother to even try to reel in the fish.

Hemingway has white hair now. He continues to write. He receives electric shock therapy. It makes him more passive. He is still with Mary Welsh.

Hemingway kills himself with a shotgun while Mary works in the kitchen.

Back to the present. The interviewer asks her about her debt to Hemingway. She says the man has been dead now for 30 years. "I wish him peace." She now call off the interview.

She remembers him standing at the typewriter in Madrid telling her to get into the fight and punish somebody.

Gellhorn calls up her agent and says she is going to take the assignment after all. She puts on her backpack and leaves her apartment.


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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