Great Scene: “Zorba the Greek”

May 15th, 2009 by

I’m going to break with tradition here as normally I include the script pages for each Great Scene, however I can’t find the screenplay to Zorba the Greek — one of my favorite movies — anywhere. Here is the IMDB summary:

An uptight English writer traveling to Crete on a matter of business finds his life changed forever when he meets the gregarious Alexis Zorba.

The uptight Englishman Basil is played expertly by Alan Bates. But it is Zorba who steals the movie and Anthony Quinn, who played the role, was nominated for Best Actor in 1964.

The movie, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, and adapted and directed by Mihalis Kakogiannis, is an almost perfect tale of head vs. heart. Basil is the quintessential uptight Englishman who has inherited a house on Crete. Zorba a passionate, half-crazed Greek glombs onto Basil in the movie’s initial scenes, as a boat carrying Basil, Zorba, and other citizens of Crete make their away across the sea in a huge storm. While the story has several subplots with a thematic backdrop of a FOOW (Fish-Out-Of-Water) acclimating himself to a foreign culture, the emotional core of the movie is the relationship between Basil and Zorba.

In Act Three, after Basil has essentially given all his money to Zorba to feed his frenetic vision of creating a system to deliver logs from up top of the island down to the sea, the edifice collapses (in another great scene). And so after all the people who showed up to celebrate scurry away amidst the destruction of Zorba’s grand scheme and Basil’s last remaining bit of wealth, the two men are left alone on the beach for this great scene:

I first saw this movie in a religious studies class in college at the U. of Virginia. The professor cited this scene as an example existential faith — that in the midst of despair and seeming hopelessness, these two choose to defy rationality and dance. If you watch the movie, and track the fitful advance of understanding between these two characters, so absolutely opposite each other, then grasp the power and beauty of them dancing on the beach, I am sure you will agree — this is truly a Great Scene.

For your added enjoyment, here is some of the wit and wisdom of Alexis Zorba:

Alexis Zorba: If a woman sleeps alone, it puts a shame on all men.


Alexis Zorba: Damn it boss, I like you too much not to say it. You’ve got everything except one thing: madness! A man needs a little madness, or else…
Basil: Or else?
Alexis Zorba: …he never dares cut the rope and be free.


Alexis Zorba: What kind of man are you, don’t you even like dolphins?


Basil: I don’t want any trouble.
Alexis Zorba: Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.


Alexis Zorba: How can I not love them? Poor weak creatures… and they take so little, a man’s hand on their breast, and they give you all they got.


Alexis Zorba: On a deaf man’s door, you can knock forever!


Alexis Zorba: No more fooling around, not in this place. We’ll pull our pants up and make a pile of money.


Alexis Zorba: Why do the young die? Why does anybody die?
Basil: I don’t know.
Alexis Zorba: What’s the use of all your damn books if they can’t answer that?
Basil: They tell me about the agony of men who can’t answer questions like yours.
Alexis Zorba: I spit on this agony!


Alexis Zorba: All right, we go outside where God can see us better.


Alexis Zorba: Hey boss, did you ever see a more splendiferous crash?


Alexis Zorba: God has a very big heart but there is one sin he will not forgive


Alexis Zorba: If a woman calls a man to her bed and he will not go. I know because a very wise old Turk told me.


Alexis Zorba: Am I not a man? And is a man not stupid? I’m a man, so I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe.

If you haven’t seen Zorba the Greek, you must put it on your list. Wonderful film.

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One thought on “Great Scene: “Zorba the Greek”

  1. Tom says:

    Many thanks for a stimulating and informativa article. Having loved the film for many years, I recently got round to reading Kazantzakis' novel which I found very rewarding, particularly for the extra information on Zorba's biography (both before and after the events portrayed in the movie). .While I really enjoyed the book, and have been inspired to read other works by Kazantzakis, .I feel this is one of the few instances where a movie actually adds something extra to the original work. As well as all the wonderful elements you mention, for me the vibrant and compelling soundtrack is an essential part of the film's magic.
    Just to prove that I'm a complete Zorba anorak, I recently took my family on vacation to Crete. If you ever go, I recommend a visit to Kokkino Chorio, a tiny hilltop village which is still recognizable as the backdrop to many of the scenes, as well as the dramatic Stavros Beach where they shot that overwhelmingly joyful finale! Excuse me while I go and watch it again …

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