Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano (co-writers and directors), Intouchables (2011)

The film the The Intouchables (2011), written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano, has much to say about dealing  with disabled people, in this case a severely disabled man who has no feeling below the neck, advocating the attitude of treating disabled people as normal, just as you would treat anyone else, despite the physical difference. The film also addresses racial issues and class divisions in France by depicting a close and deeply fulfilling friendship between a wealthy white man who lives in luxury and a black man from Senegal who has a criminal record and lives in public housing, a bond that transcends racial and class barriers and is profoundly satisfying for both men.

The wealthy white Philippe had been a robust, romantic, self-reliant and adventurous man who had been into extreme sports before his accident.  He did not want to be pitied but rather treated as an individual. He preferred to be challenged rather than appeased, or teased rather than humoured.  He wanted to be treated as a normal person who happened to be different, and not treated as a patient. 

Having advertised for a live-in carer, he rejected the job applications from many trained specialist carers to instead accept a black man, Driss, who was unemployed and who did not want the job since he was only there to be seen to apply for a job so he could continue to qualify receive his unemployment benefits from the government.  Driss was independent, surly, cheeky, and he did not profess to care or be charitable. But, most importantly, Driss did not treat Philippe as a victim who deserved pity. From this unusual and awkward beginning, the film follows the process by which the two men get to know each other and form a bond that is as close to love as a friendship between two heterosexual men can be.

The new carer, Driss, asked his boss Philippe potentially embarrassing questions because he was genuinely interested in his life.  He accepted Philippe as a sexual being by hiring a prostitute to cater to his desires.  He also provoked Philippe into meeting a woman with whom Philippe had exchanged romantic letters but never met in person.  He appreciated his boss’ love of extreme sports so the two of them drove at high speed through the streets of Paris at night, and they even went paragliding together.  Consequently, Philippe could feel that life was still worth living. It could be full of challenges and adventures, despite his disability.  Importantly, the film frequently features the laughter Philippe shared with his roguish fun-loving carer.  

In regards to the film’s treatment of racial and class issues, the film, having been made at a time of racial tensions in France, shows the benefits of reaching out to the marginalised races in the community and to the poor.  In this case it was to an unemployed black man from Senegal who had had a criminal record, had taken illicit drugs, hung out with aimless youths, and who seemed to have no future but a life of crime and incarceration.  Driss represents someone who would be feared by many Frenchmen.  When Driss first entered his boss’ luxury home he stole an expensive Fabergé ornamental egg that was of great sentimental value to Philippe. Later, motivated by his conscience, Driss returned the egg to its rightful place.  Philippe’s kindness was shown to have reformed this former criminal.  In addition, throughout most of the film, this former criminal consistently showed his worth as an individual, bringing happiness not only to his boss but to many others in his boss’ household.  When given a chance, this wayward young man flourished and became a model citizen. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2021 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: The Intouchables meaning, The Intouchables themes, The Intouchables analysis, The Intouchables notes