Revisiting Serpico

Years ago, way back during late adolescent years, I had watched one of the iconic movies directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Al Pacino – Serpico.

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A few years ago there was a documentary on the life and trials of sergeant Serpico and it also had a significant amount of coverage about the movie and all the things which made it possible.

I was quite taken over by the content and depiction of an incorruptible police officer when I had first seen Serpico. It was among the best movies I had watched till then. Almost everyone I had anything to talk to about movies, I would tell them how great this movie is.

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Back then, during the early phases of intellectual development, I was thinking as I should have been thinking. Consequently, I had a greater share of respect and admiration for the police officer Mr Serpico on whose life the movie was based on. Despite the excessively brilliant performance by Al Pacino, which sure must have taken a huge toll on him, I knew the greater praise must be reserved for Officer Serpico. Why?    Because the cliched stick in the mud thinking tells you so. “Actors are only imitating real life,….. it must have been more difficult for that officer…. Al Pacino sure must have made a lot of money etc etc.”

A  few days ago, thinking like an adult, I read what Serpico had to say when he was asked by Al Pacino about his reasons for doing what he did, for his stubborn adherence to rules, for his motivations behind his fight against corruption. I was sure expecting something solid to come as a reply. What Mr Serpico had to say was surprisingly quite tepid.

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In my imagination from the stature of a magniminous mountain he got reduced to someone who has probably just in the wrong profession. To Al pacino’s pointed question, Mr Serpico simply said that he did what he did because if he hadn’t he wouldn’t have known who he was going to be the next time he listens to a piece of music. This may sound damn original to many but to me it is just plain selfish.

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There wasn’t any coherent system of belief or thinking which was guiding his actions. He was feeling compelled to do what he did because of a juvenile ambition which would have been pretty impressive had he continued to remain steadfast in his stand against organized corruption by remaining relevant in some way or the other. Instead he took a giant leave and lived a life made for a very few artists with very fragile constitution. His task of consistent opposition against the forces he had felt compelled to not take sides with was taken over by Al Pacino and his team who has kept reinventing himself as an actor, remaining loyal and committed to the chsoen path.

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Somehow, it made me realize that it is Al Pacino who is the real hero both cinematically and literally. He is probably one of the most humble people you would get to watch or listen to when he is doing interviews and is on some television show or another. To remain relevant and committed to his chosen line of pursuit of meaning and purpose in life Al Pacino sure must have paid huge and terrible costs. Yet, for all I know he has never uttered a smug statement like Mr Serpico.

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In retrospect, now it seems far from being a role model for anyone, Mr Serpico was probably just the wrong guy in the right place at the right time. He probably just was meant for some another profession. If measured solely in the manner of outcomes, whose sacrifices and hard work had a bigger and wider impact? Can we say Mr Serpico made more enduring changes to the police department and became an inspiration to as many as has been the influence of Al Pacino on the Hollywood industry and on his fellow actors?

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