Deception and insights

Deception Island. It is a place in Antarctica of which I had never heard, a place apart featured in the BBC Travel web pages.

Human artifacts on the island resemble those one would find on a derelict industrial site, probably because the buildings that remain are the derelict structures left by the whaling industry, structures abandoned more than half a century ago.

It is not the former place of marine life death that is evocative of past memories, but the current presence of marine life abundance. Colonies of chinstrap penguins now inhabit Deception Island. Mr Forbush would be delighted that they were thriving so well.

Mr Forbush was the lead character in a film that was one of the most memorable of my youth. Mr Forbush and the Penguins was a box office failure, was torn apart by the critics, and was damned by faint praise in The Guardian, whose film critic commented, “it is not as bad as we have been led to believe.” To me, however, it was a film with deep insights into¬† the foibles of human nature and the harshness of wider nature.

In Mr Forbush and the Penguins, John Hurt played Richard Forbush, a biologist who went to Antarctica to study a penguin colony.

Forbush had gone to impress a woman back in London, but in the isolation of his existence and the penguins’ struggle for survival, he develops an empathy for the penguins that makes him deeply resentful toward skuas that come to steal penguin eggs and chicks. Forbush is determined to protect the penguin colony and makes a balista, a reproduction of a Roman siege weapon, to repel the skuas.

“Retribution is near my fine feathered friends. Make no mistake about that,” he declares to the predators.

As he fires rocks at the skuas with the balista, he shouts, “You’ve asked for it, now you’ll get it! Now it’s your turn! You hear me? Go on, get out! Get out! All of you! Die, damn you! Die! Do you hear me? Die! Die!”

Forbush briefly repels the skuas, but as soon as he ceases his missile onslaught against them, they return and he is forced to realize that there is nothing he can do against nature working in its own way.

Had the story been true, had Forbush been a real person, fifty years after the making he would be an old man, and perhaps he would be delighted to read the story of Deception Island.  Perhaps he would be delighted that the penguins seem always to endure predation and to thrive without human intervention. Whether his relationship with the woman back in London would have thrived is more doubtful.

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