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Praying mantis, monkey, pappion? Brazil.

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Papillon (film)

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Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung

Directed byFranklin J. SchaffnerProduced byRobert Dorfmann
Franklin J. Schaffner
Ted Richmond (executive)Screenplay byDalton Trumbo
Lorenzo Semple Jr.Based onPapillon 
by Henri CharrièreStarringSteve McQueen
Dustin HoffmanMusic byJerry GoldsmithCinematographyFred J. KoenekampEdited byRobert SwinkDistributed byAllied Artists (USA)
Columbia Pictures (Non-USA)

Release dates

December 16, 1973

Running time

150 minutesCountryUnited StatesLanguageEnglishBudget$13.5 million[1]Box office$53,267,000[2]

Papillon is a 1973 prison film directed byFranklin J. Schaffner, based on the best-selling autobiography by the French convictHenri Charrière.

The film stars Steve McQueen as Henri Charrière (“Papillon”), and Dustin Hoffman asLouis Dega. Due to being filmed at remote locations, the film was quite expensive for the time ($12 million), but it readily earned more than twice that in the first year of public distribution.[3] The film’s title is French for “Butterfly,” referring to Charrière’s tattoo and nickname.


1930’s France. Henri Charrière (Steve McQueen), a safecracker nicknamed Papillon because of the butterfly tattoo on his chest, is wrongly convicted of murdering a pimp, he being framed for the crime. He is sentenced to life imprisonment within the penal system in French Guiana. En route, he meets a fellow convict, Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman), a forger and embezzler who is convinced that his wife will secure his release. Dega hires Papillon as his bodyguard, but the two eventually develop a friendship.

After defending Dega against a sadistic guard, Papillon is sentenced to solitary confinement. In gratitude, Dega smuggles extra food to Papillon. When the food smuggling is discovered, prison guards cut Papillon’s food rations in half, believing that hunger will force him to reveal the name of his benefactor. Though emaciated and half-insane, and reduced to eating insects to survive, Papillon refuses to snitch on Dega. After two years he is released from solitary confinement, having spent six months in total darkness and on half rations. A grateful Dega, who would not have had any ill feeling toward Papillon if he had told the warden that it was he who arranged the extra food, wants to pay back Papillon, which Papillon states is not necessary. However, Papillon plans another escape with Dega’s help. Another inmate, Clusiot (Woodrow Parfrey), who Papillon and Dega long ago befriended, begs to go along, to which Papillon ultimately agrees. Although Papillon wants Dega to go along, Dega declines, still believing that his wife will eventually get him released, which Papillon does not think will ever happen as the prison system now “owns” him.

While recovering in the infirmary, Papillon meets a homosexual orderly named André Maturette (Robert Deman), who insists on joining their escape plot. The prisoners bribe a guard who promises to give them a boat. During the escape, Clusiot is knocked unconscious by a guard, but Dega, sensing an opportunity and reflecting on what Papillon told him, makes a run for it with Papillon and Maturette. The three do escape, Dega seriously injuring his ankle in the process during a high fall. After paying the guard and tramping into the jungle, they discover that the boat is unseaworthy, at the same time discovering that Dega’s injury is a fracture. A local trapper, who reveals that the guard has repeatedly cheated prisoners by taking their money and then arranging to have them captured by bounty hunters, has killed the waiting bounty hunters. He refers Papillon to a nearby leper colony, where they obtain supplies and a boat.

After reaching the mainland, the trio are accosted by a group of soldiers. The soldiers open fire. Maturette is shot and captured along with Dega, still crippled by his broken ankle. After evading the soldiers, Papillon lives for a long period with a native tribe; one day he awakes to find they have moved on. One thing he finds that they have left behind and that he takes with him is a small bag ofpearls, which they used to barter with western traders. At a police checkpoint, Papillon pays a nun with a pearl to join her entourage and goes with her to a convent. Admitting he is a fugitive but stressing that he is not a murderer, Papillon asks the Mother Superiorfor refuge, leaving her all his remaining pearls to prove his good faith. She turns him over to the authorities, keeping the pearls. She justifies her actions by stating that if he is guilty of crimes, he has fed the poor with his donation of the pearls; if he is not guilty of crimes, God will watch over him in prison.

As punishment for his escape, Papillon is forced to spend five years in solitary confinement. He has gray hair when released and sees Maturette, who is dying. He later watches the authorities dump Maturette’s dead body into shark infested waters. Papillon is moved to the remote Devil’s Island, where he reunites with Dega. From a high cliff, Papillon observes that every seventh wave that comes into a small harbor rebounds from the rocks and is powerful enough to carry him out to sea. Manufacturing two floats out of bagged up coconuts, he tries, unsuccessfully, to persuade Dega to come with him. After embracing Dega, Papillon leaps from the cliff and, grasping his float, is carried into the sea.

A narrator states that Papillon lived the rest of his life in freedom. He outlived the prison, which was closed in 1953. The prison is shown abandoned and overgrown by jungle plants.




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