Bob Marley: One Love: Mythologizing and Unreal Image of the Reggae Legend

Reinald Marcus Green's film is a frustrating experience for Marley fans, and to those who aren't, it explains nothing of the natural mystique of its subject

by Sededin Dedovic
Bob Marley: One Love: Mythologizing and Unreal Image of the Reggae Legend
© Paramount Pictures / Youtube channel

Marley and his music are legendary, even more than 40 years after his death from cancer. The musical aspect is the obvious one. He is revered by musicians within and outside of the reggae genre, with influences ranging from The Police and Eric Clapton to Rihanna and Jay-Z.

Marley's life certainly deserves biographical treatment, but "Bob Marley: One Love" doesn't pay attention to the man's musical legacy or explore the impact he made outside of the island nation of Jamaica. Biopics about music icons are often a surefire formula for commercial success, attracting legions of fans and generating solid box office returns.

However, the quality of these films often lags behind the financial profit. Two recent films about Elvis Presley illustrate this dilemma. Baz Luhrmann's "Elvis" is a bombastic spectacle that celebrates the King of Rock and Roll with an abundance of his greatest hits, but offers a cursory glimpse into his complex personality.

In contrast, Sofia Coppola's "Priscilla" portrays the life of Elvis from the perspective of his wife Priscilla, but does so without his signature music.

Bob Marley: One Love© Paramount Pictures / Youtube channel

Choosing the first time often means sacrificing authenticity for acceptability.

Films made under the close supervision of family or "estate" performers often turn into hagiographic accounts, avoiding the dark side and offering a sanitized version of the star's life. On the other hand, the decision to film without the consent of the copyright owner results in a film that looks and feels incomplete, because it lacks the heart and soul - the music of the artist in question.

"Bob Marley: One Love" is another example of this battle between commercial feasibility and artistic truth. The film focuses on the most interesting phase of Marley's life - the period before his death - when he created some of his most important works and became a global icon of the fight for peace and social justice.

However, the exaggerated presence of Marley's family and "estate" led to a purified and idealized version of his story.

Bob Marley: One Love© Paramount Pictures / Youtube channel

The film opens with an assassination attempt on Marley in Jamaica, prompting the musician to leave the island and record his monumental album "Exodus" in London.

After that, he returns home and organizes the "One Love Peace Concert" where he performs alongside the leaders of two conflicting political factions. "One Love" attempts to capture this pivotal moment in Marley's career and his life, but lacks the political context to explain the importance and danger of this act.

Bob Marley: One Love© Paramount Pictures / Youtube channel

Documentaries like Kevin Macdonald's "Marley" from 2012 or even an episode of the Netflix series "ReMastered" that deals with the assassination itself are much better for understanding the political situation in Jamaica at that time and the risks Marley took by organizing the concert.

These projects offer a broader picture of the political unrest and social tension that gripped Jamaica, allowing audiences to better understand the reasons for Marley's activism and the courage of his performance.

Bob Marley: One Love© Paramount Pictures / Youtube channel

"One Love" remains superficial in this regard, offering the publicity an image of Marley as a saint and savior, rather than the complex and contradictory personality that he was in reality.

The film's main star, Kingsley Ben-Adir, while physically attractive and charismatic, fails to capture the essence of Robert Nesta Marley. Ben-Adir cannot capture the intensity of Marley's spirituality, his battle with skin cancer during this period (which is evident in the documentary footage and photographs shown at the end of the film), nor his raw energy on stage.

In addition, the film also errs in screenwriting liberties. He naively claims that the song "Exodus" was created in one breath, with the suggestion that Bob was almost mystically inspired by the film of the same name. Such scenes of the original song are far from reality, as is the depiction of a young Marley playing the "Redemption Song" in flashback.

This poem was written towards the end of his life, not in his youth. "Bob Marley: One Love" belongs to biographical film stories in which the lives of the main protagonists are embellished and devoid of the controversy of revealing secrets from life.

Nevertheless, even such a correct depiction of Bob Marley's life is not a failed film. If you are not a fan of Marley or you are younger and are not familiar with this artist, then choose a documentary about Marley to get a more realistic picture, if you are a fan then watch it.