Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Art and Nuance

Sometimes I'm bowled over, thunderstruck and left speechless or sobbing at the end of a particularly artful story.  Such was the case of A Passage to India, David Lean's epic masterpiece, based on E.M. Forster's novel.  I loved it because the tale, although simple, was very much about something--imperialist racism, the east is east, west is west mentality of Great Britain, British distain for conquered people. 

Through the point of view of Dr. Aziz we see the Indian desire to emulate the British, while preserving a sense of pride.  He is able to navigate his own stratafied society with ease, which to the British is inscruitable and utterly mysterious.  Judy Davis, as Miss Quested, is undeniably brilliant.  Is she is a Freudian hysteric, or a legitimate victim?  Somewhat ambiguous, though not as ambiguous as the novel, apparently. 

The scene wherein she takes the path less traveled, and runs across tantric statues and a tribe of angry monkeys, is magnificent.  Magical.  One feels strongly the risk, the danger, and how the film makers intensified the stakes at issue.

Age of Innocence is, by contrast, a much more subdued film.  Gestures and glances are fraught with ambiguous meaning.  On the surface nothing happens.  But the mystery of the relationships, the ambivalence of the characters, the unrequited desire--all create a profound subtext.  In that sense, the film is literary.  Two totally different styles of film making are at work.  Both films make the viewer feel something, or know something ineffable--they both have subtextual elements that communicate implicitly.  I didn't have an emotional response to Age of Innocence.  I rather disliked it.  But then it began to gnaw at me. 

Both films are brilliantly directed by film makers who know exactly what they're doing.  They have the economy of brilliant works of art--nothing is wasted.  The difference though, is that Age of Innocence is so subtle that it takes repeated viewings to make sense of it, whereas A Passage to India is operatic in its intensions and unmistakable.  Both films have much to offer.

One last note.  I find that A Passage to India, with its theme of racism and rape, prefigures the themes in To Kill a Mockingbird and was written 40 years before.

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