A film that communicates resilience from every frame

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner - 1973 - France, USA - 148 min


2021 October 20 | by Arduino Mancini Conflict - Motivation - Negotiation - Resilience - Stratagems

The film is based on the novel of the same title by Henri Charrière. The protagonist is a young 25-year-old Frenchman, known as Papillon because of the butterfly he has tattooed on his chest, sentenced in 1931 to life imprisonment for a murder he did not commit.

Charrière has to serve his sentence at forced work in the penal colony of French Guiana, but he refuses to resign himself to imprisonment: during the 13 years of detention in one of the worst prisons in the world, all his actions will have the sole aim to seek the freedom that was unfairly taken from him.

He attempted nine escapes, which cost him several years in isolation.

A key element of the film is Papillon’s friendship with Louis Dega, a forger who tries in every way to get out of prison using means opposite to those used by the protagonist: thanks to the money he can afford, Dega attempts to obtain, with the help of his wife and a lawyer, a revision of the trial that will never come.

It is from Devil’s Island, the smallest of the Salut Islands and located off the coast of French Guiana, that Papillon manages to escape with a sack of coconuts as a raft.

Now watch the trailer; then we’ll see which points of the film I think might interest you.



How to watch the film

“Bloody bastards… I’m still alive! “

These are Papillon’s words when he finally leaves Devil’s Island to reach, on a very poorly equipped raft, the coasts of Venezuela; words that sum up his will to live and to resist mistreatment, humiliation and all the controversies that separate him from freedom.

So, if I had to summarise the meaning of the film, I would say that it represents an extreme model of human resilience: resisting, resisting desperately to achieve one’s goal.

But that is not all.

The story is based on two characters who approach life, and the search for freedom, very differently:

  • Louis Dega, the forger, does everything he can to adapt to the environment, to suffer as little as possible and to secure his life. He achieves this goal with certain ease by conquering positions in which he can gain advantages for himself and his friends. His attempt to recover his freedom passes through the help of his wife and a legal action aimed at the revision of the trial: a road I would say ‘institutional’, which will probably end up guaranteeing him a long existence;
  • Papillon doesn’t assign any value to life in prison and the only kind of integration with the environment that interests him is the one that will allow him to plan his next escape attempt. As shown by his silence about the people who help him in his attempts to escape, he is not frightened by the years of isolation that follow each effort.

I recommend this film to anyone in a difficult situation who thinks they will never make it.

Which of the two characters do you feel closest to?


Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Victor Jory, Don Gordon, Anthony Zerbe, Robert Deman, Woodrow Parfrey

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