Simon Pegg Charmingly Investigates Irrationality in Nandor Fodor and the Talking MongooseMovies Reviews Simon Pegg
There have been many accounts of “talking” animals throughout history, most of them birds. But in the early 1930s, Hungarian researcher Nandor Fodor received a letter from an old colleague soliciting his opinion about a curious case from the Isle of Man and a talking mongoose named Gef. Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose recounts Fodor’s investigation of this curious happening and the harrowing things he (Simon Pegg) found on the island.
But as Fodor’s advisor, Dr. Harry Price (Christopher Lloyd), writes in his own journal during his visit to the island, Gef is exceptionally bizarre, confounding even scientific observation. The Irving family, who have raised and housed this animal, call Gef an “earthbound spirit.” Neither wholly benevolent nor entirely malicious, Gef is amiable towards those who believe in him, suspicious of those who don’t, and always just out of sight. He speaks (voiced by Neil Gaiman) from the security of the shadows, underbrush or telephone box—seemingly omnipotent, full of warning and gossip. There isn’t a soul in the village who doesn’t have a Gef story: Some hear his voice on backroads or over a mysterious phone call. It will take everything Fodor knows and believes to ferret out a reasonable conclusion. Even with his assistant Anne (Minnie Driver) by his side bearing witness to these events, he’s still in jeopardy of losing his mind—perhaps even his soul.
For their part, Pegg and Driver do an exceptional job bringing the oddball venturers to life. Pegg is properly clipped, cynical and curious, going from scrutinizing to shocked in seconds. He Christoph Waltzes his way through an Austro-Hungarian accent that adds to his character’s self-consciousness as an outsider. He’s the proper man for this time, sure of his convictions, even if his knowledge is tenuous. Like any good paranormal investigator, his logic is part conjecture and conjuration. This makes Fodor overconfident in his reasoning, yet with the slightest prick, Pegg can make him deflate like a whoopee cushion.
Luckily, he has Anne to help him get back up again, though Anne herself is just now finding her footing after some years in Fodor’s employ. Driver has always been like a butterfly in flight, able to control whether she’s wobbly on the wing or calibrated and landed. She’s ideally suited to be Pegg’s Girl Thursday—just as sharp and capable as the next day’s girl but more easily flustered and starry-eyed.
And it’s hard not to get flustered when talking to Gef. Writer/director Adam Sigal takes us to the edge of explanation, peering into the crate for confirmation that what our senses perceive is true. But certainty evades us, which Sigal manipulates to make the space sing, like a spiritualist performing a séance for their paying audience. By using audio tricks and sleight-of-camera techniques, he electrifies the frame with possibility. What seems like fantasy may actually be real.
Sigal wades us into the collective experience of the islanders. As we tread along with Fodor and Anne, we must decide what we make of our encounters with Gef. If there are moments of palpable dread, where we get mongoosebumps and consider that Gef may be some sort of cosmic horror, then Sigal has opened up the story to wonder and enchantment in the modern world.
Stories have a more complicated relationship to fact than we care to admit. The ethnopoetic narration Sigal has Fodor, and Dr. Price read from their journals is a winking and intelligent reminder that scientific studies like anthropology, psychology and the natural sciences are also storytelling, especially in the early decades of the disciplines. Their observations must appeal to the reader’s reason to seem credible, especially when the only evidence is educated speculation. Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose affirms that far from being objective, scientific narratives are still susceptible to the phantasms we project onto reality.
Whether or not the “true story” of Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose is actually true is irrelevant. No one in this mystery has suspended their disbelief. Through collective experience, they come to a consensus, one that rests outside the bounds of conventional belief. Sigal has written and directed a film that allows you to join that community or resist it. Those who choose to embrace the uncertainty get an enjoyable exercise in suspending rationality. Tucked away in the film’s charmingly light and plucky script is a profound challenge for Fodor, and for us: To hold logic and antilogic in our minds at once. In an illogical world of uncertain horizons and borders, maybe the unexplainable is here to give us an explanation; perhaps the voices we hear are worth listening to, even if they come from furry and unexpected places.
Director: Adam Sigal
Writer: Adam Sigal
Starring: Simon Pegg, Minnie Driver, Christopher Lloyd, Neil Gaiman
Release Date: September 1, 2023
B.L. Panther is a culture writer, scholar and Pisces from Northern Illinois. B! writes for outlets such as Honey Literary Journal and The Spool. A champion hermit, they enjoy reading, the indoors, afternoon naps and doing nothing at all.