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Case Number 18919

Buy Voyager at Amazon


Scorpion Releasing // 1991 // 113 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // May 17th, 2010

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wishes they still served food on planes.

The Charge

"It was a whole train of coincidences, but still within the laws of probability."

Opening Statement

Voyager is a tragedy. Director Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) says so himself. That's not a judgment, just a description.

The story takes protagonist Walter Faber (Sam Shepard, The Right Stuff) around the world, from Mexico to New York to Paris to Rome to Greece. However, the ancient theater of the final destination sets the tone for the movie. The German-made movie (in English) is based on Homo Faber, a novel by Max Frisch. The title is a phrase that "refers to humans as controlling the environment through tools," according to Wikipedia. Faber's an engineer, and the title sums up his philosophy of life.

Facts of the Case

In the 1950s, globetrotting engineer Walter Faber is drawn to Sabeth (Julie Delpy, An American Werewolf in Paris), a young woman he meets on a ship traveling from New York to Paris; perhaps it's because of her resemblance to an old flame of his. Sabeth is drawn to him as well, even though she reads Albert Camus and he's never read a work of fiction. Sabeth tells Faber she's planning to hitchhike across Europe. He's worried for her, and offers to drive her to Rome. Along the way, his concern becomes romance, and romance leads to tragedy.

The Evidence

Early on, Walter Faber is stranded in the desert by a plane crash. The unruffled stewardesses continue serving breakfast, and the unruffled Faber takes the opportunity to get out his typewriter and bang out a letter to Ivy, the woman back home, to break off their relationship. When he gets back to New York, she doesn't want to break it off, and wants to go to Paris with him. He wavers, but sets off alone. Even by this point, it's clear that Faber is unemotional and uncommunicative, except in his professional realm. Think of him as Dilbert, only wearing a hat. I did. That thought grew when Faber, finding a younger woman drawn to him, takes her on a tour of ship's bowels. "It's always a pleasure to watch machinery in operation," he tells her. He also is proud of being a "technologist," unmoved by philosophy or art.

Thus, it's thoroughly out of character for Faber, even when he's in love, to sneak out of a meeting to surprise Elisabeth at the Louvre. This does provide one of the lighter moments of the movie, as the technologist takes a rare look at art, while Elisabeth silently follows him through the museum, watching. You see the two characters are in love by the way they just can't part after what's supposed to be a brief, friendly encounter. It's changing Faber a bit; as they continue traveling together, he's getting to the point where he can look at a marble head and "wonder what she's dreaming about."

Naturally, since it's a drama, Faber is headed for a shocking revelation that will bring that whole train of coincidences crashing into him. It's a variation on the story of Oedipus, one that Scott Adams could never slip into a newspaper comic strip. There was a point when I'd figured out pretty much everything that was going to happen. Since it was about 45 minutes before Faber figured anything out, that was the point where the movie pretty much just stopped. Unfortunately, Faber isn't as heroic as a Greek king or warrior. He's also just too damn slow to realize how fate has entered his life. Thus, by the time you get to it, an ending that's meant for emotional impact just seems like a convenient resolution. There's also a choppiness about the movie, which is held together by Faber's voiceovers, that reveals its origins in a novel that was probably a lot more complex.

At the same time, I had to hand it to Sam Shepard for his portrayal of Faber. He makes a character who isn't particularly likable, or even that interesting, watchable. Shepard is perfectly believable as the engineer who has too much control over his emotions. That's important, because it's Faber's picture. We only see the other characters—even Julie Delpy's Sabeth—through Faber's eyes. Director Volker Schlöndorff notes in his interview that Shepard, perhaps better known as a playwright than as an actor, shortened his dialogue himself, and viewers will probably concur with Shepard's decisions.

The transfer looks and sounds great. The locations, all done up in period style, are convincing; you might actually feel like this is a pristine print of a '50s movie. Home movies, a hobby of Faber's, interspersed throughout the film add a little more verisimilitude here.

Sam Shepard doesn't participate in the extras, but there's plenty of background on the movie and its shooting. In "A Journey to Voyager: An Interview with Volker Schlöndorff," the director lets us know that the original hero of the novel was Swiss, and that his agent told him the story was "too European" to work with American audiences. In "The Last Sabeth: An Interview with Julie Delpy," the actress talks a lot about working with the moody Shepard. In "Rudy Wurlitzer Remembers Voyager," the screenwriter talks about a change in the ending between book and movie.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

It's odd, but the credits on the movie and the titles in the trailer are in German, even though both are in English. It's annoying when you find out that the deleted scenes are in German, with no subtitles; thus they don't add much.

I'm puzzled by the PG-13 rating on Voyager. The subject matter isn't handled explicitly, but Voyager is still a movie you just don't want your kids to see.

Closing Statement

Voyager's ending will be unpleasant for a lot of viewers, especially with a tragic moment that seems awkward.

The Verdict

Sam Shepard acquits himself well, but viewers are likely to find the seas rough nonetheless.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 95
Audio: 90
Extras: 90
Acting: 90
Story: 80
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Scorpion Releasing
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Drama
• Foreign

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted Scenes
• Interviews
• Trailer


• IMDb
• Wikipedia: Homo Faber

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