by Sherif M. Awad
The 8th Day (Le huitième jour) is a 1996 Franco-Belgian comedy-drama film that tells the story of the friendship that develops between two men who meet by chance: Harry, a divorced businessman who feels alienated from his children, and Georges, a man with Down syndrome who escapes from a mental institution.
The film was written and directed by Jaco Van Dormael, a Belgian filmmaker known for his quirky and imaginative style. The film starred Daniel Auteuil and Pascal Duquenne as Harry and Georges respectively. Auteuil is a French actor who has won several awards for his roles in films such as Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources, and The Closet. Duquenne is a Belgian actor who has Down syndrome in real life. He was discovered by Van Dormael in a theater workshop for people with special needs.
The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or award at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival and won the Best Actor award for both Auteuil and Duquenne. It was also nominated for a César Award and a Golden Globe award. The film received critical acclaim and was praised for its humor, emotion, and message.
In this article, we will explore how the film portrays Down syndrome, what we can learn from it, and why it is an example of European cinema and diversity. We will also provide some background information about the film and its topics, as well as some frequently asked questions and answers.
- What is The 8th Day?
- How Does The 8th Day Portray Down Syndrome?
- What Can We Learn from The 8th Day?
- Frequently Asked Questions
What is The 8th Day?
The 8th Day is a film that follows the lives of two men who are very different from each other but who find a common ground in their friendship. The film mixes realism and fantasy, comedy and drama, to create a unique and memorable experience.
The Plot of The 8th Day
The film begins with Harry, a successful but unhappy salesman who works for a bank. He is divorced from his wife Julie, who has custody of their two daughters Alice and Juliette. He rarely sees his children and when he does, he doesn’t know how to communicate with them. He is also under pressure from his boss to close a deal with a big client.
One day, he decides to take his daughters to an amusement park for the weekend. However, he forgets to pick them up at the train station and they end up going back to their mother’s house. Feeling frustrated and guilty, he drives around aimlessly until he almost runs over Georges, a man with Down syndrome who has escaped from his mental institution.
Georges lives in an institution with other people with special needs. He loves watching videos of Luis Mariano, a Spanish singer who died in 1970. He also loves drawing circles on paper. His mother died when he was young and his father never visits him. He feels lonely and abandoned.
Harry tries to get rid of Georges but he insists on staying with him. He calls him his guardian angel and says that they are friends. Harry reluctantly agrees to take him back to his institution but along the way, they encounter various adventures and challenges that bring them closer together.
They visit Georges’ father’s house but find out that he has moved away without leaving any address. They go to a bar where Georges sings Luis Mariano’s songs on stage and wins over the crowd. They meet Fabienne, Georges’ sister, who is pregnant and unhappy with her husband. They also meet Nathalie, a young woman who works at a gas station and who has a crush on Harry.
As they spend more time together, Harry and Georges discover new aspects of themselves and each other. Harry learns to appreciate the simple joys of life and to reconnect with his emotions. Georges learns to express his feelings and to stand up for himself. They also help each other to deal with their problems and to find their happiness.
The film ends with Harry and Georges going to the amusement park with Harry’s daughters. They have fun and bond as a family. Harry also reconciles with Julie and decides to quit his job. He realizes that he loves Georges and that he is his best friend. He also tells him that he is his guardian angel.
The Characters of The 8th Day
The film features a cast of colorful and complex characters who add depth and humor to the story. Here are some of the main characters in the film:
- Harry: He is the protagonist of the film. He is a successful salesman who works for a bank. He is divorced from his wife Julie and has two daughters Alice and Juliette. He is unhappy, stressed, and lonely. He doesn’t know how to enjoy life or to relate to his children. He meets Georges by accident and becomes his friend. He learns to appreciate the simple things in life and to reconnect with his emotions.
- Georges: He is the co-protagonist of the film. He is a man with Down syndrome who lives in a mental institution. He loves watching videos of Luis Mariano and drawing circles on paper. His mother died when he was young and his father never visits him. He feels lonely and abandoned. He escapes from his institution and meets Harry by chance. He calls him his guardian angel and says that they are friends. He learns to express his feelings and to stand up for himself.
- Julie: She is Harry’s ex-wife and the mother of Alice and Juliette. She is a nurse who works at a hospital. She is tired of Harry’s neglect and indifference. She wants him to be more involved in their children’s lives. She also wants him to be happy and to find his purpose in life.
- Alice: She is Harry’s older daughter. She is 12 years old. She is smart, mature, and responsible. She loves her father but she is disappointed by his lack of attention and communication. She tries to help him to reconnect with her sister and herself.
- Juliette: She is Harry’s younger daughter. She is 8 years old. She is playful, curious, and imaginative. She loves her father but she doesn’t understand why he doesn’t spend more time with her. She likes to draw pictures of her family and her dreams.
- Fabienne: She is Georges’ sister. She is pregnant and unhappy with her husband Didier, who is abusive and unfaithful. She loves her brother but she doesn’t visit him often because she feels guilty and ashamed of him.
- Nathalie: She is a young woman who works at a gas station where Harry and Georges stop by. She has a crush on Harry and tries to flirt with him.
The Setting of The 8th Day
The film uses different locations and environments to create contrast and symbolism in the story. The film reflects the social and cultural context of Belgium and France in the 1990s, where people with special needs were often marginalized and stigmatized.
- The mental institution: This is where Georges lives with other people with special needs. It is a dull, gray, and depressing place where they are treated like children or prisoners. They have no freedom or dignity.
- The bank: This is where Harry works as a salesman. It is a modern, sleek, and cold place where everything is about money, competition, and performance. They have no fun or emotion.
- The amusement park: This is where Harry takes his daughters for the weekend. It is a colorful, bright, and joyful place where they can have fun, laugh, and play together.
- The countryside: This is where Harry and Georges travel together on their road trip. It is a natural, green, and peaceful place where they can relax, explore, and bond with each other.
Here is the second part of the article:
How Does The 8th Day Portray Down Syndrome?
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that occurs when a person has an extra copy of chromosome 21. It affects physical and mental development and can cause various health problems. People with Down syndrome have distinctive facial features, such as a flat nose, almond-shaped eyes, and a small mouth. They also have low muscle tone, short stature, and intellectual disability.
Down syndrome is one of the most common genetic disorders in the world. According to the World Health Organization, about one in every 1,000 babies is born with Down syndrome. There are more than 200,000 people living with Down syndrome in the United States and more than six million worldwide.
People with Down syndrome have the same rights and dignity as anyone else. They can learn, work, love, and contribute to society in their own ways. They also have diverse personalities, talents, interests, and dreams. They are not defined by their condition but by their individuality.
The 8th Day is a film that portrays Down syndrome in a realistic, respectful, and positive way. It shows both the challenges and opportunities that people with Down syndrome face in their daily lives. It also challenges or reinforces some of the common stereotypes and misconceptions about people with Down syndrome. It also empowers and advocates for people with Down syndrome and their families.
The Challenges and Opportunities of Down Syndrome
The film shows that people with Down syndrome face many difficulties and obstacles in their lives. Some of these are:
- Social isolation: People with Down syndrome often feel lonely and excluded from society. They may have few friends or family members who understand or support them. They may also face discrimination, bullying, or abuse from others who judge them based on their appearance or abilities.
- Lack of autonomy: People with Down syndrome often depend on others for their basic needs and decisions. They may live in institutions or group homes where they have little freedom or choice. They may also have difficulty finding jobs or education opportunities that suit their skills and interests.
- Health problems: People with Down syndrome are more prone to various medical conditions, such as heart defects, respiratory infections, thyroid disorders, leukemia, Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity. They may need regular check-ups and treatments to maintain their health and well-being.
However, the film also shows that people with Down syndrome have many possibilities and potentials in their lives. Some of these are:
- Creativity: People with Down syndrome have a unique way of seeing and expressing themselves. They may have artistic talents or hobbies that they enjoy and excel at. For example, Georges loves drawing circles on paper and singing Luis Mariano’s songs.
- Emotionality: People with Down syndrome have a strong sense of empathy and compassion for others. They may have deep feelings and emotions that they share openly and honestly. For example, Georges tells Harry that he loves him and that he is his guardian angel.
- Spirituality: People with Down syndrome have a profound connection with nature and the divine. They may have a sense of wonder and gratitude for life and its miracles. For example, Georges believes that God created him on the eighth day after resting on the seventh day.
The Stereotypes and Realities of Down Syndrome
The film portrays Down syndrome in a balanced way that avoids both romanticizing and stigmatizing it. It acknowledges the difficulties that people with Down syndrome face but also celebrates their strengths and achievements. It also shows that people with Down syndrome are not all the same but have different personalities, preferences, and goals.
The film challenges some of the common stereotypes and misconceptions about people with Down syndrome, such as:
- They are always happy: The film shows that people with Down syndrome have a range of emotions like anyone else. They can be sad, angry, scared, or bored as well as happy. For example, Georges cries when he misses his mother, gets angry when he is insulted, and feels bored when he is alone.
- They are always innocent: The film shows that people with Down syndrome have a sense of morality and responsibility like anyone else. They can distinguish right from wrong and make their own choices. For example, Georges decides to escape from his institution, to stand up to his father, and to help Harry with his problems.
- They are always dependent: The film shows that people with Down syndrome have skills and abilities like anyone else. They can learn, work, and take care of themselves. For example, Georges knows how to read, write, and count, he works as a gardener at his institution, and he helps Harry with driving and cooking.
The film also reinforces some of the common stereotypes and misconceptions about people with Down syndrome, such as:
- They are always funny: The film uses humor as a way of entertaining and engaging the audience. It often makes jokes or gags at the expense of people with Down syndrome or their condition. For example, Georges makes funny faces, says silly things, or does clumsy actions that make people laugh.
- They are always childlike: The film depicts people with Down syndrome as having a low level of intellectual development and maturity. It often treats them like children or infants who need guidance and protection. For example, Georges plays with toys, watches cartoons, or sleeps with a teddy bear.
- They are always special: The film portrays people with Down syndrome as having a magical or mystical quality that makes them different from others. It often attributes them with supernatural powers or abilities that affect their surroundings. For example, Georges can communicate with animals, predict the future, or heal people.
The Empowerment and Advocacy of Down Syndrome
The film empowers and advocates for people with Down syndrome and their families in several ways. It does so by:
- Raising awareness: The film educates the public about what Down syndrome is and how it affects people’s lives. It also shows the diversity and complexity of people with Down syndrome and their stories.
- Breaking barriers: The film challenges the social and cultural norms and expectations that limit people with Down syndrome. It also encourages them to pursue their dreams and aspirations regardless of their condition.
- Creating opportunities: The film provides opportunities for people with Down syndrome to participate in the film industry and the media. It also supports them to develop their talents and skills and to express themselves creatively.
The film also collaborates with various organizations and movements that support people with Down syndrome and their families, such as:
- World Down Syndrome Day: This is a global awareness day that is celebrated on March 21 every year. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of people with Down syndrome and to raise awareness of their contributions to society.
- Special Olympics: This is a global sports organization that provides year-round training and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. It aims to empower them to achieve their potential and to foster inclusion and respect.
- Down Syndrome International: This is a global network of organizations that advocate for the rights and interests of people with Down syndrome. It aims to improve their quality of life and to influence policy and practice.
What Can We Learn from The 8th Day?
The 8th Day is a film that offers many lessons and insights that we can apply to our own personal or professional lives. It also relates to some current issues or trends that are relevant to our audience. Here are some of the main lessons and insights that we can get from watching the film:
The Importance of Friendship
Friendship is a central theme and value in the film. The film shows how friendship can help us overcome loneliness, isolation, prejudice, and stress in our lives. It also shows how friendship can enrich our lives with joy, love, and meaning.
Harry and Georges are two men who are very different from each other but who find a common ground in their friendship. They support each other, learn from each other, and have fun with each other. They also help each other to grow as individuals and to achieve their goals.
Friendship is also important for Harry’s relationship with his daughters. He realizes that he needs to be more than a father to them. He needs to be their friend as well. He needs to listen to them, play with them, and share his feelings with them.
Friendship is something that we all need and crave in our lives. It is a source of happiness and fulfillment. It is also a skill that we can develop and improve. We can make new friends, keep old friends, and be better friends to others.
The Value of Diversity
Diversity is another key theme and value in the film. The film shows how diversity can enrich our culture, society, education, and economy. It also shows how diversity can challenge our stereotypes, biases, and assumptions.
Harry and Georges are two men who come from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. They have different perspectives, opinions, and preferences. They also have different strengths, weaknesses, and abilities.
However, they also have many things in common. They have similar needs, desires, and emotions. They also have similar values, morals, and dreams.
Diversity is something that we all encounter and embrace in our lives. It is a source of learning and innovation. It is also an opportunity to expand our horizons and to appreciate our differences.
The Power of Happiness
Happiness is another essential theme and value in the film. The film shows how happiness can improve our health, well-being, productivity, and creativity. It also shows how happiness can inspire us to pursue our passions and to make a positive impact on the world.
Harry and Georges are two men who are unhappy with their lives at the beginning of the film. They feel dissatisfied, frustrated, and hopeless. They also feel trapped in their roles and routines.
However, they also find happiness in their lives as the film progresses. They find happiness in their friendship, in their family, in their hobbies, and in their achievements. They also find happiness in themselves, in their identity, in their expression, and in their purpose.
Happiness is something that we all seek and deserve in our lives. It is a source of motivation and fulfillment. It is also a choice that we can make and a habit that we can cultivate.
The 8th Day is a film that tells the story of the friendship between a businessman and a man with Down syndrome. It portrays Down syndrome in a realistic, respectful, and positive way. It also offers many lessons and insights that we can learn from it.
The film is an example of European cinema and diversity. It reflects the social and cultural context of Belgium and France in the 1990s. It also showcases the talent and creativity of its actors and director.
The film is a masterpiece that deserves to be watched or rewatched by anyone who loves films that make them laugh, cry, and think at the same time.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Where can I watch The 8th Day? You can watch The 8th Day on various streaming platforms, such as Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play, or iTunes. You can also buy or rent the DVD or Blu-ray from online or offline stores.
- What is the meaning of the title The 8th Day? The title The 8th Day refers to the biblical story of creation, where God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. Georges believes that God created him on the eighth day after resting on the seventh day. He also believes that he is special and has a mission in life.
- Is The 8th Day based on a true story? No, The 8th Day is not based on a true story. It is a fictional story that was written and directed by Jaco Van Dormael. However, some aspects of the film may be inspired by real events or people, such as Pascal Duquenne’s life and experience as an actor with Down syndrome.
- How accurate is the portrayal of Down syndrome in The 8th Day? The portrayal of Down syndrome in The 8th Day is generally accurate and realistic. It shows both the challenges and opportunities that people with Down syndrome face in their daily lives. It also shows that people with Down syndrome are not all the same but have different personalities, preferences, and goals. However, the film may also exaggerate or simplify some aspects of Down syndrome for dramatic or comedic purposes, such as Georges’ abilities or behaviors.
- What are some other films that feature characters with Down syndrome or other special needs? Some other films that feature characters with Down syndrome or other special needs are: Rain Man (1988), Forrest Gump (1994), I Am Sam (2001), My Feral Heart (2016), The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019), and Come As You Are (2019).