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The Ghost and the Darkness

The Ghost and the Darkness is a 1996 action/adventure/natural horror/thriller film starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas. Its based on the true story of John Henry Patterson's efforts to kill two man-eating lions while trying to build a railway bridge of the Tsavo river in East Africa.

Plot Edit

Colonel John Henry Patterson, a military engineer and hunter, arrives in London and meets with his employer, Robert Beaumont, a knight, who instructs him to build a bridge over the Tsavo river in East Africa, and be finished in five months, ahead of the Germans and French. Though his wife is three months pregant, she encourages Patterson to go to Africa, as he had always wanted to see it. When he arrives, Patterson is met by Angus Starling, who accompanies him to the bridge site, where he meets Samuel, the muslim trusted by all the workmen. There, Patterson learns of a man-eating lion's presence, which he kills that night with one shot, earning the trust of his workmen. During the next nine weeks, the bridge is steadily built much faster than normal, thanks to the help of Mahina, Patterson's foreman, who he deeply admires. Bad luck soon strikes, as another man-eating lion appears one night and kills Mahina, leaving the other workmen in a state of terror. Patterson fails to kill the lion the following night, and it kill another. Abdullah, the leader of the workmen, begins to doubt Patterson, but they work together and prevent further death for a week. One day soon, however, the man-eater attacks in broad daylight, and just when Patterson is about to kill, a second one appears and kills Starling, before the pair make good their escape. The killing continues steadily, all the way up to thirty victims, before the work force try to leave on the day Robert Beaumont arrives, with Patterson convincing Abdullah to make them stay. Beaumont, displeased with how things are, threatens to ruin Patterson's reputation and fire him if he has to return because of how things are, but tells him he will contact the legendary big-game hunter Charles Remington to assist him with the man-eaters. Patterson's efforts continue to fail, with the victim count rising to over forty. Remington arrives and saves Patterson's life from the angered Abdullah and his workmen.

Remington takes charge of the hunt for the man-eaters, using Masai hunters to help him kill the lions, but they leave, believing them to be demons after just one attempt. Having realized previously that the old hospital was being studied by the man-eaters because of its stench of blood and sickness and had the doctor set up a new, Remignton and Patterson coat the old one with blood and dead cow body parts in attempt to attract the man-eaters. This works, but after being shot at, the lions flee and attack the other hospital, killing all the patients and the doctor. The next day, the remaining workmen flee Tsavo on a train, and Remington and Patterson track the lions on foot, discovering their den, which is full of skeletons, revealing the beasts were killing for pleasure. Patterson proposes using a machan to hunt the lions, with Remington and Samuel providing a baboon, as well as the former giving Patterson his pistol for extra help. After an owl causes him to fall off the platform, Patterson shoots one of the lions, which Remington later finishes off when it attempts to jump on Patterson. That night, as they celebrate the victory, Patterson and Remington bond more and he tells him to hold his son high when he meets him(at this point, the time had come for him to be born). The next day, Patterson finds that the remaining man-eater has dragged Remington from his tent and killed him. Cremating his body where he finds it, Patterson boxes in the lion with fire and confronts it on the incomplete bridge, wounding its head, before being chased into a tree. Samuel tosses him Remington's rifle, which falls, but Patterson gets to it in time to slay the final lion at point blank range. The workforce returns, along with Patterson's wife, and he holds his son high as Remington had instructed, later completing the bridge.

Historical Accuracy Edit

The film completely fictionalizes Patterson's book and the true story, even the parts based on real events where fictionlized. They include the following-

1. Mahina, who was real, was not Patterson's foreman, but rather a random Indian coolie he picked to be his gun-bearer and, unlike in the film, he was never killed by the man-eaters. He was also the only person Patterson hunted with in reality. Also, Abdullah was real, but not a worker, rather being a sergeant of askaris(native soldiers) for the District Officer, Mr. Whitehead, who had two wives and was killed by the lions. The real Abdullah was probably the basis of the character Samuel in the film.

2. The great Charles Remington is completely fictional. Patterson killed both lions himself and did so relatively unassisted by anyone. The character was based off of big-game hunter Charles Ryall, who worked for the railroad, but did not help Patterson in stopping the man-eaters at all.

3. The boxcar trap was different in reality. The bars were much less distanced from anyone within them, as Patterson noted in his book that the men he used in his stead one night were so close they could have touched the lion that fell for the trap with their guns. Whats more, he did not use poachers as the film shows, he used railway policemen(sepoys), who arrived to help him with the Superintendent, thereby providing Patterson with only help given during his hunt for the Tsavo man-eaters, help which, in the end, was unproductive. Also, in the film, its stated that no blood was found after the failed attempt to kill the lion that fell for the trap. In reality, Patterson did find blood, but after further investigation, concluded that the lion had hurt one of its legs while slamming on the bars, as there was not enough blood for a gunshot wound.

4. While there were two man-eating lions, they were not the maned variety seen in the film. They, like most Tsavo males, where maneless and more aggressive than others and, unlike in the film, only hunted at night. But they were still very unusual for lions, even by man-eaters standards. Also, in real life, they only killed 135 people over the nine months it took Patterson to kill them, most of them not eaten, as modern day tests prove that the lions killed by him had only eaten about 35 victims, whereas in the film, they were revealed to have killed hundreds. Also, he killed them less quickly in reality than in the film, as after he killed the first one, many days of celebration followed before the hunt continued.

5. While the den of the man-eaters was indeed discovered by Patterson, it happened after he had already killed them both and never had any human skeletons in it.

6. Though Patterson did indeed build a railway bridge at Tsavo, it was very different from the one seen after the credits.

7. Patterson used .303 rifle and a Martini-Henry carbine as the weapons he used when killing the lions, not the double rifle and two-shot pistol shown in the film.

8. Although Patterson did indeed use a machan in his hunt for the lions, when the hawk owl hit him in the head, he did not fall out, and merely shot the lion present that night in the heart after it flew away.

9. During Remington's Masai attempt for the lion, Patterson took the upper position, but when the lion got to him, his gun misfired. Although this scary incident did take place, the circumstances were very different; Patterson had used Indian coolies to drive him out of the thicket, and was using a double rifle at the time of the misfire. After it, he, as the lion tried to flee, shot him in the hind leg with his left barrel.

Aside from the things mentioned above, the rest of the true story has been completely altered in the film.

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