Ok, Here Are My Thoughts on Zorba The Greek, After Sleeping On It

December 1, 2012

(Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler)

Zorba The Greek has been on my “read soon” list for a while.

I had it bookmarked after Tim Ferriss mentioned about how great this book is. It’s one of his top philosophy books.

I finally bought the book this week and started reading it last night. I had scanned the book description prior and thought it was an uplifting inspirational story like The Alchemist. Plus the cover of the book also seemed light hearted.

This incorrect expectation was the main reason I was so shocked last night.

So after reading a few pages, I wondered if there was a movie based on this book. Hey, why not take a shortcut to get the jist? Right?

Yes, there was a movie! And it got good reviews: 86% on rotten tomatoes. Score.

Now I wonder if there’s a free full movie version on youtube? Nope. I check Netflix streaming. Nope. I then check Amazon, in the last ditch hope that maybe they have it for free on prime membership. Nope.

But it is available as a rental for just $2.99. Score! One click rental and I can watch it on my iPad. Best ever.

All this “effort” and finally finding the movie version I could watch right now made me super hyped.

What The Movie is About:

It’s about 2.5 hrs long and in black and white.

I’m excited.

I’m expecting to get super inspired by a story of some dude, who with the help of Zorba, will find the meaning of life.

Like The Alchemist combined with Finding Nemo combined with Shrek combined with Spongebob Squarepants combined with The Count of Monte Cristo.

I know, my expectations make no sense compared to what the actual story is about.

But I was hyping myself into the positive expectation vortex like I had been taught by Abraham Hicks. Things keep getting better & better and I was milking the fun moment for all its worth. And that works.

The movie, nor the book, is what I thought it was. It’s based on life in Greece a long time ago. In a rural island called Crete.

A nerdy intellectual British dude, with the help of wild live in the moment Zorba, go to mine & make money from this land.

I won’t review the whole movie here.

I just want to focus on the one scene that was super disturbing to watch.

There’s a hot feisty widow in that town. All the men lust after her and hope she would pick one of them as her new husband.

Apparently, not remarrying is a big no no in their culture. And the way too young son of one of the important dudes in that town has fallen in love w/ this widow as well. He keeps sending her love notes and whatnot, but she refuses each time.

There’s a scene early on in the movie where her goat jumps over the wall and ends up in a cafe. All the men hide the goat and tease the widow when she comes looking for it. They play, “hide the goat” and just razz her.

Finally, Zorba takes matters into his own hands and grabs the goat & gives it to the widow. She doesn’t speak a word, but gives all the men the stink-eye and then spits on the floor in disgust and walks out.

It’s raining. So, the british dude offers his umbrella to the widow. She refuses. Then, the dude opens the umbrella and covers her from the rain. She’s slightly impressed, looks at him and actually almost smiles. Then leaves with the umbrella.

Zorba is pumped up. He’s hyped. He tells the british guy that the widow loves him and she’s his for the taking. British dude is a shy timid wealthy book-reading type. Zorba is the exact opposite, a wild live in the moment grizzled veteran of life.

All the men in the cafe are quiet now. Zorba mentions how all the men in town want the widow, yet she showed interest in the british guy, and that he should take what the god has bestwoed upon him – the widow. It would be a sin to let a woman sleep alone at night, he says!

Anyways, the tension builds in the town. Then one night, the british guy is kinda at wits end. Nothing is going right in his plans in making money and Zorba has left him. Zorba was supposed to go into town to buy some supplies, instead he’s written back saying he’s living large on the british guy’s money: booze, hookers & more.

British dude finally goes to the widow’s house in the middle of the night. She lets him in immediately without any words exchanged. One of the townsfolk see this and spreads the news. The rich dude’s young lovestruck son hears about this and the next morning is found dead by the seashore. He drowned himself.

The town is buzzing with calls of revenge. The mob brings the dead body of this kid on their backs and start throwing stones at the widow’s house.

Later, there’s a funeral for the boy. The whole town is there. The widow tries to come, the men of the town don’t let her in the church. Instead they surround her in the yard and bad things are about to happen.

I now have to make a decision if I should keep watching the movie or not. One of my all time most disliked things is seeing a woman being harassed & tortured by dudes. I don’t know why, because I’m not a saint, but it really just pisses me off.

It pisses me off because I don’t like the underdog being picked on. Secondly, it pisses me off to see my own kind, other males, behave like this.

So now I’m wondering if there is actually going to be a rape scene? As tantalizing as it is in porn movies, real rape is the exact opposite. It’s the worst ever and I really don’t want to see it.

But how could there be a rape scene in Zorba the Greek? It’s supposed to be a lighthearted uplifting movie, right? (again, error in judgement on my part)

Maybe this is the point in the movie where our hero, the british dude, rides in and saves the damsel in distress. He’s actually in the church and can hear all the commotion outside. He’s nervous but he finally comes outside.

At this point, every single person in town is there, surrounding the widow, and seems like everyone wants her to pay.

The dudes throw rocks at her. Then rip part of her clothes. She’s trying to run away but there is nowhere to go.

Where the fuck is Zorba? Why the hell is the british dude so timid and not doing anything? This isn’t the hero’s journey I was expecting.

But I can’t turn off the movie. I’m already this far committed and even paid for it! I guess I have to ride out this ride.

Anyways, one of the dudes pulls out a sharp knifelike thing and it’s about to get bad. British guy yells at some other dude to go get Zorba.

As the widow’s about to get stabbed Zorba rushes in and saves her. Then he tells her to follow him and he starts walking.

The dead boy’s dad grabs the widow’s head from behind and slices her throat. She dies immediately. The townsfolk are happy and they all disperse.

I’m pissed. I expected the damn timid dude to end up with the widow in a happy ending.

Zorba turns around and sees what has happened and is slightly upset, for a millisecond. Then he brushes it off and leaves. The british guy is upset, obviously. But there is nothing to be done.

I’m disturbed because I’ve seen the exact scene that I hate to see. I guess at least there were no gruesome rape scenes. Only that would have made it worse.

Now I had to try my best not to have nightmares or have it affect my good mood lately. I don’t want to be out of the happiness vortex I’ve been in for the past month.

I try to get my mind off of this movie by watching some Jim Rohn clips on youtube. Then listened to a bit of Abraham Hicks. Then I tell my mind to erase the thoughts from my mind and hope for a positive sleepy time.

The Moral of the Story:

My instant reaction was like many others, disgust and disappointment in the movie. I even tweeted about it last night.

Then I read a really well-written review of the meaning behind the murder scene.

The whole movie seemed pointless. There is no hero. There is no wedding. There is no gold. There is no happy ending. Stuff just happens, mostly sad stuff.

But this morning, I get it.

This is a philosophical book set in olden times. Stuff like honor killings happened back then, even do today in many parts of the world. I’m spoiled living in America, where it’s all roses, candy & bunnies compared to the rest of the world.

The book is about being a stoic and living/enjoying life regardless of the situation or circumstances.

Crete is like a super small rural town. All townsfolk live by honor, superstition and whatever else.

Women are not to be seen or heard. They’re just in the background, doing domestic things. The men are wild and dominant. The custom is for a widow to remarry. The longer she doesn’t, the more of a disrespect it is to the single men and other married women.

Who the hell is she to parade around and “tease” all the menfolk?? Even if she is literally covered from head to toe in clothes and you can’t see any skin! I guess that was the moral rules of their society back then.

Then she has the gall to disrespect & turn down all the men in her town but sleeps with a rich foreigner.

Then the young kid kills himself and there is a debt to pay. One life for another. Plus the widow has the balls to show up for the funeral? Big mistake!

Every single person in the town wanted her dead. The other women were almost worse than the men. You can expect wild things from men, but the women showed no mercy for one of their own. They all called her names, threw stones at her and called for her extinction.

In our current society, we don’t accept honor killings like this. And we fucking shouldn’t. It’s dumb. It’s primitive. And a woman has rights. She can do whatever the fuck she wants without upsetting the “men folk.”

But the moral of the story is that every society must seem primitive in the future. Even ours.

America obviously had a lot of witch burnings in the past. Slavery. McCarthyism. Women were second class citizens for most of the time, and even today they don’t have full rights (ie: primitive people trying to take away their abortion, contraception, etc rights). Gays are made fun of, tortured and killed regularly. They can’t marry and are looked down upon. It’s getting better but it’s not as good as it will be in 50 or 100 years.

So, as I look in contempt and disgust at ancient Crete and their dumb rules, the point of the book is to inspect ourselves.

There is public shaming in every society, even one as advanced as ours.

And what’s a person to do? Go with the mob? Fight against the mob? Or try to live your life as best as you can?

Zorba is kind of the yoda in the movie. He is far from perfect. He drinks. He lies. He marries & remarries (not shown in movie, but in the book apparently he’s married to many women). He has kids, yet he is just out in the world living life to the fullest.

He rarely shows any emotion, especially to the bad things that happen.

When an injustice happens, he does his best to correct it. But if he fails, he doesn’t lament & fall into self-loathing pity.

When the townsfolk tease the widow by playing “pass the goat”, he steps in to save her. When they tried to kill the widow, he tried his best to save her. When she’s killed anyways, there is nothing he can do. She’s already dead. Worrying or crying or feeling pity won’t bring her back.

He even seduces an old french woman in town. She falls in love with him, he’s just trying to have fun and get some.

But he never shows it to her. He lies to her (painting flowery pics + compliments + promises for the future). He dances with her. He makes her feel good, for the moment.

There is a scene where she passes out in bed, as she’s reliving her youth (thanks to Zorba), and he calls her a “bitch” and “dirty pig” to the british dude. Right in front of her. But he knows she’s passed out and won’t hear him. I was a little shocked. I thought he really liked her.

It shows that he doesn’t really care for her deeply as she thinks he does. Yet he’s a perfect gentleman in front of her because it makes her feel good, which in turn will mean good things for him.

Not what we expect out of a true hero but I guess what’s he to do? Save this damsel in distress? What if he’s not in love? Should he just not have fun or have sex? He’s not stealing from her nor abusing her. He’s showing her a good fun time to this old lonely love-lorn french woman.

Another heartbreaking scene takes place. The french woman is dying from pneumonia (she caught it by waiting in the rain for Zorba to come back). Zorba tries his best to make her feel better, even using cupping on her back.

As she lie in her deathbed, the townsfolk get word of this. Everyone, including ugly witchlike townswomen run into the house to steal every single thing they can. Drapes. Silverware. Chickens. Goats. Carpet.

The frenchwoman is scared as she lie there dying and Zorba shoos away the savage women.

But the lady die anyways. Then true chaos takes place. All people from the town are there, ransacking the place.

All that’s left in the house is the naked dead body of this lady in her bed.

Zorba + british guy leave. The latter asks the former if there will be a burial. Zorba says the townsfolk will not bury her since she’s a foreigner. Brutal. But Zorba says that’s just how things are here and there’s nothing to be down. And why lament anyways, it doesn’t matter to her since she’s already dead. Tough (but true) pill to swallow.

The movie ends with another disaster.

The whole movie, Zorba + british guy are planning to make money thru a mine. Zorba goes thru extreme thinking + actions to devise this plan to get some timber from a monastery in the mountains down to the mine.

He spends tons of money, brain power & labor to finally build this contraption that ziplines pieces of timber down the mountain.

Of course, in the end, everything comes crashing down. Everything is lost.

There is a moment of silence and glances exchanged between the british guy (I really should look up his name rather than call him british guy, right?) and Zorba.

Then Zorba is troubled because the lamb is about to burn. He rushes to the fire just in time to save it. They had been cook lamb to celebrate the momentous occasion.

Next scene is of them eating delicious lamb + drinking liquor + laughing. Then the british dude asks Zorba to teach him how to dance. Then they dance and laugh.

As they leave town, the dude who originally tried to kill the widow offers them a drink. A moment of reconciliation? The movie didn’t translate what the guy said but I assume it was that “let’s let bygones be bygones” or something.

Our two heroes drink the liquor, reservedly, then leave.

The message is: fuck this town. It’s primitive and brutal and crazy. Just because the town is fucked up doesn’t mean we also have to be fucked up. Live the best as we can. Do the best we can to correct a wrong. If that doesn’t work out, then leave. No point in carrying other people’s burdens. We live a short life and we aren’t guaranteed another.

Last Thoughts:

I now realize that this story is genius and very deep. On the surface, it’s easy to get pissed and disgusted and some of the brutal things that happen in it.

But if we zoom out and look at it in perspective, we see that every society is flawed. Doesn’t mean we should not live life to the fullest.

I also believe in what Abraham Hicks preaches on how to be happy & create our lives.

No point in focusing on the negative. Do our best to focus on the positive and do our best. In that sense, we shouldn’t watch disturbing movies just for the shock factor. Especially if we’re sensitive and it will leave a residue in our psyche.

I am one of those “highly sensitive people” who takes the burden of others easily. Things affect me more than many others. It’s often hard for me to shake disturbing things (news, movies, events, etc).

But this movie was very deep (though I’ll never watch it again).

I get it.

Tim Ferriss was right.

This book/movie puts everything into perspective and shows us that we are all still savages. Doesn’t matter if we have twitter & iphones and amazon prime delivery. We’re all still savages.

Maybe I’ll read the book one day, I’m sure there are more golden nuggets contained in it.

Eat. Laugh. Drink. Travel. Have sex. Play music. Do your best. Live life to the fullest. Dance even if everything goes wrong.

(photo source)

leann June 1, 2014 at 7:00 am

I knew a guy once who I fell deeply in love with…who told me that in order to understand him I should read this book. As a “highly sensitive person” I did. I did not understand him anymore; but felt pity for him. A confused author appealing to confused people. Yes, there are many people who are savages and maybe an argument can be made that we all are, but…what of the Mother Teresas, Joan of Ars, Martin Luther KIngs, etc who gave their lives to others. Yes, they are flawed but they tried to overcome them and compensate for them. We are not animals with only instinct…we are inteligent, thinking beings who have a spiritualness that can make choices. Yes, many wrong choices are made…. but we can change behavior. I believe my friend had many hurts in his life that he couldn’t understand and make his peace with…so does everyone else. Maybe he asks himself why, especially why me…but along the way there were a few who reached out to change that perspective…and the fewer who tried to help had a choice to make…and no one should tolerate abuse, even when the person is in pain and crying out. We must look inward, seek our spiritualness which only comes from the Supreme Being known by many names, and falsely claimed by many names…Truly, the kingdom of God is within each of us….

coolgroove April 10, 2015 at 9:59 pm

Rebel if things go wrong.

Robert April 13, 2015 at 12:56 am

Wow, your writings offer some great analysis of Zorba the Greek. Thank you for sharing your insights.
I also found that scene disturbing, especially because it showed the towns women folk acting just as nasty and cruel as the men. There is an important object lesson in the story (which you also elude to) about the thin layer of civility in our parts of the modern world could easily break down.
Several years ago, my car broke down in a bad area. I called the tow service but they were reluctant to go there, but they said they would get there although it would take a while. The longer I waited there (in my car) the more attention I seem to attracted. I stood out like a small town Hick.
It did get pretty scary. I’m not a small guy, but at the same time, I can’t take on 5 (or more) guys that all looked like they had done prison time. Without going into whole story. This old woman came by and scolded them and wouldn’t back down. She saved me. I thanked her and asked her if there was anything I could do for her. She declined and said that she live in the area her whole life and when she was a little girl it was a nice area.
The tow truck came and she said good bye. Great Lady with a great soul.

david a September 10, 2015 at 2:06 am

I think the movie was very depressing…… I can’t see why Basil did nothing to save the widow who he spent the night with ( he seems to me flawed with a weak character and should have tried to save the widow even if he would died saving her ) ……added note, I would have closed the mine and left the country after they murdered the widow ( just being in a state of depression and having to associate with a bunch of murders ……………dave

PS… I quess Basil was half Greek ,,,,and that took the civilized part out of him

Dan Dunn April 22, 2016 at 3:07 pm

I don’t believe for five seconds that this actually happened, or would actually happen in this way. The guy didn’t have the cajones to sleep with the widow. In reality. Zorba called him out on it. Said he was a chicken. The guy decided to write an entire novel about how horrible it would have been IF he had slept with her. How terrible it all would have been, on and on, and how Zorba was a creep anyway, and I am NOT a big chicken—boo hoo hoo.

The whole thing is a “get even” fantasy done by a guy who missed a good chance and then wanted to justify his lack of balls. So he wrote this thing. What’s wrong with it is that it’s a lie. A self-serving lie, too.