Magical Realism in Camus’ Black Orpheus and Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying
Myth and reality have gone hand in hand in every culture since the beginnings of time because mixing the two is an effective method of teaching values and morals– the modern term for this is “magical realism.” Because all cultures have mythical representations of life and death and love, the magical realism used in both Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus and Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying is effective because, while it is specifically aimed towards either the Brazilian and South African cultures, it can be interpreted by any culture at all because of the universal themes it emphasizes. Mixing magical realism with realistic forms of expression allows a story to be rooted in and yet above humanity. This enables the reader to aspire to the precedents set by the characters while at the same time not feeling that they are entirely out of reach. Dealing with cultural issues through magical realism adds a dreamlike quality to the violence, corruption, and poverty, making it more palatable than bald honesty but at the same time adding a touch of familiarity through the common subjects of love, life, and death– the three topics broached by Black Orpheus and Ways of Dying. These cultural themes are approached differently in each but both Camus and Mda address the cultural issues of Brazil and South Africa through the use of magical realism.
Black Orpheus is multi cultural before the story even begins, as it is directed by a Frenchman and set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil– this adds a certain depth to the film that is accentuated greatly by the mix of culture, myth, and reality that is found within the movie itself. By mixing Greek myth, Brazilian custom, and many religions, Marcel Camus created a truly globalized movie, and one that appeals to all cultures who celebrate life, death, and love. The magical realism in this film is very heavy handed, but still effective for all its obviousness. Based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the Brazilian version of this couple move through the dance of magical love and tragedy that their namesakes first marked out in Greek lore. The eery specter of Death follows the fated couple through the Carnival, foreshadowing the eventual tragedy of their love. However, Camus also gives the audience hope for better with the passing of Orpheus’ guitar to the young boy of the shanty town, and the little girl who dances to his music while the sun rises.
This seemingly simple love story uses magical realism as a vehicle to illustrate both globalization and the cultural issues facing the poverty-stricken shanty towns of Rio de Janeiro. By using a Greek myth to bridge the gap between these two very different cultures Marcel casts the shadow of poverty and its consequences across many societies, not just Brazil. Because they are so different and yet can be represented through the same story of good and evil says a great deal about the similarities...