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Movie Review

City of Joy

MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for violence, profanity, and adult situations

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
2 hr. 14 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Relevant issues
Cover Graphic from City of Joy

POVERTY—What does the Bible say about the poor? Answer

Poor in the Bible


Leprosy in the Bible

Featuring: Patrick Swayze, Pauline Collins, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Art Malik
Director: Roland Joffé
Producer: Roland Joffé, Jake Eberts
Distributor: TriStar

“City of Joy” is excellent in terms of making us aware of the world’s needs. There are too many disturbing elements for younger children, but viewers from the United States or other first world countries will be prompted to count their blessings anew. Prior to the feature, the video has an advertisement for CARE.

Three lives become intertwined in the City of Joy, a very poor area of Calcutta, India. Joan Bethel (Pauline Collins, “Paradise Road”) runs a free clinic there. Max Lowe (Patrick Swayze), a disillusioned American surgeon who is set up, robbed and beaten by some local “godfathers” while on vacation, is treated at her clinic. Hasari Pal (Om Puri), who has brought his family to Calcutta in a desperate search for work after his farm was repossessed during a drought, helps bring Lowe to the clinic. From there, the film’s theme is the conflict between those trying to make a difference and those who want everything to stay just as it is.

There is the expected profanity for a PG-13 rating. No sexual activity (despite his protests, Lowe is supplied with an “escort” at his tourist hotel; but he just goes out on a friendly date with her). No nudity (except for babies, and a wall painting). There’s a lot of violence and threatened violence by the “godfathers” who control wages, prices and rents. The many scenes of lepers (I’m not sure how much is special effects and how much, if any, is actual leprosy) and the other medical crises at the free clinic will be disturbing to some people.

One of the godfathers makes a sanctimonious speech about how people who have either everything or nothing are content, but people who have a little wealth are discontented and want more; therefore, since there’s not enough wealth in India for everyone to have more than a little, his role in keeping the masses on a bare-subsistence existence is a socially noble one. That statement is self-serving baloney, although there’s a grain of truth inside it. Lowe, on hearing that speech, has to decide whether he agrees with Nurse Bethel or with the godfather; that is, whether he’ll support the clinic or will dismiss it as a futile effort to “drill a hole in water,” as he had earlier called it. You’ll want to see his decision, and the results that it brings.

By the way, the disease we call leprosy today (otherwise known as Hansen’s disease) is one of the least contagious of all contagious diseases. But because it is known as leprosy, people with Hansen’s are shunned and banished (as shown in this film) without cause. Thank God for those who aren’t afraid to get involved. Other videos of similar nature include “The Fourth Wise Man” and “Simple Courage”, documenting the effects of Father Damian as he worked with those affected by leprosy in Hawaii during the early part of the 20th century.

Viewer Comments
I saw this movie days ago and found it very interesting because it gives you a good idea of what kind of live you could have serving the Lord in a country like India. Nevertheless it was disappointing to see this “undefined” missionary woman trying to help everybody by herself and with her American friend, but not asking help to God. Besides there was nothing of sharing the gospel or talking about Jesus to all that suffering people, but only Donald Duck, physical medicine and material blessings. This kind of “spiritual Hollywood movies” have the emphasis in the works and not in grace. Somebody has to share the saving message to the producers. Blessings. My Ratings: [3/3]
Rafael, age 40