The Constant Gardener is a relatively straightforward conspiracy thriller made complex through the heavy use of non-linear Storyweaving. In a somewhat unusual storytelling choice, the Main Character is shown as an unassuming, almost passive, Do-er while the Influence Character is shown as an assertive, almost aggressive, Be-er. This works well in the story and adds some “flavor” to the Main Character growth over the course of the story. Another unusual aspect of this story is that the Influence Character dies at the beginning of the story. This leaves the expression of both the Influence Character throughline and the Relationship Story throughline to memories and flashbacks of prior events through the use of complicated Storyweaving. Overall, The Constant Gardener is a successful, well-crafted film built on a solid storyform.
The Main Character is Justin Quayle, a low to mid-level British diplomat posted in Kenya, Africa. It took me a while to separate his milquetoast mannerisms from his problem-solving style. I initially mistook his passivity by identifying him as a Be-er but that didn’t feel right. His “constant gardening” clued me in to his true nature as a Do-er. Though mild-mannered, he seems almost incapable of working out things internally and uses his gardening as therapy (MC Approach of Do-er).
The Overall Story revolves around an unethical alliance between a large drug company, members of the British government, the Kenyan government, and a pharmaceutical testing company (OS Domain of Situation). They are involved in secretly testing a new vaccine on impoverished Kenyans. Unfortunately, the vaccine has a nasty side effect — it kills some of the inoculated (OS Concern of How Things are Changing). Changing the venue is too expensive for the alliance, so they doctor the test results (OS Issue of Fact and OS Problem of Non-accurate) and bury the dead bodies. Tessa Quayle, a medical doctor, discovers the ruse (OS Counterpoint of Fantasy), compiles a document describing the deadly vaccine and some of the parties responsible (OS Solution of Accurate) and sends it to a key British diplomat who, unfortunately for her, is part of the conspiracy. To keep they’re work and alliance safe (OS Catalyst of Security), Tessa and a colleague are murdered before she can get the word out further (Story Driver of Action). The murders are said to be a crime of passion and blamed on one of her friends (OS Problem of Non-accurate). This is about where the movie begins.
Justin is stunned by the news of his wife’s death but the story surrounding it is completely inconsistent with his understanding of her work and behavior. In fact, he realizes he really has no idea what Tessa was up to. He begins a search of self-discovery by looking into what happened (MC Domain of Activity, MC Concern of Doing, MC Signpost 1 of Gathering Information). He has limited experience as a sleuth (MC Issue of Experience) and his dogged pursuit gets him in trouble (MC Symptom or Determination), but his life as a incessant gardener makes him good at “digging up” information (MC Unique Ability of Skill). However, there are only a limited number of pieces of evidence to be found to determine what is at stake (Story Limit of Optionlock).
Tessa’s impact on Justin is the result of her ability to manipulate those around her, including Justin (IC Domain of Manipulation). She plays the willing adulterer to Justin’s fellow diplomat Chris in order to get a letter connecting the key British diplomat to the conspiracy (IC Concern of Playing a Role). Her “love” letter to Chris (IC Issue of Desire) helps get her what she wants, but nearly devastates Justine when he reads it (MC Critical Flaw of Desire).
Justin and Tessa’s relationship is the very definition of a clash of fixed attitudes (RS Domain of Fixed Attitude). Their first meeting at a conference had Tessa ranting against the position outlined in Justin’s lecture. Their appearances at diplomatic events are marked by Tessa’s outbursts and political tirades (RS Concern of Impulsive Responses). Even their relative status (he a diplomat, she a bohemian) is an issue between them (RS Thematic Conflict of Value v. Worth). But ultimately, they have a relationship that grows over the course of the story, even after Tessa’s murder.
As Justin collects all the evidence (Forewarnings of Gathering Information), he discovers the truth about the conspiracy and his wife’s murder. He also comes to understand how Tessa did things the way she did to protect him. He learns from her experience. Knowing he’s a dead man walking, he returns to the place of Tessa’s murder and awaits the assassins sent to kill him (MC Resolve of Change). He reflects on his life with Tessa and looks forward to reunification with her after death (Story Judgment of Good). Unfortunately, even though the British diplomats involved in the conspiracy are exposed, the drug company gets away unscathed and moves it’s testing to another unsuspecting African country (Story Goal of Failure).