“India forces one to come face to face with oneself.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
I’m ultimately more taken with this adaptation than Peary seems to be. Of course the issue of “what happened in the caves” is of paramount importance — and was famously never revealed by Forster himself — but is meant to be shrouded in mystery, as it is here. (I disagree with Peary’s suggestion that the film indicates Aziz “did attempt something” and “might have been guilty.”) What is clear, however, is that Adela’s ambivalence over whether or not to marry Havers — combined with the sensory overwhelm of being in a hot new country with so many sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and customs to become used to — combine to put her into a decidedly hallucinatory and unwell state. As DVD Savant writes in his review, “In one of the best-edited scenes, Lean communicates Adela’s sexual fear in a confrontation with erotic sculptures and a horde of very non-cute monkeys. She’s never even in the same frame with a monkey, yet Lean makes us feel their threat. Monkeys show up at several key moments in the movie, and seem to represent the savagery and sexual chaos that the British fear in the Indian culture.”
To that end, Lean does a powerful job representing the very-real tensions between colonial Britons and fed up Indians, who are rightfully ready for change and increasingly intolerant of Britain’s patronizing attitudes and actions. Dr. Aziz (Banerjee) personifies this tension, with his attitude shifting over the course of the film as he gradually realizes that his own well-being — and that of his nation — will depend on extrication from his desire to “present well” to the British. Fox’s role (though minor) is equally pivotal in the movement towards respectful equality between Indians and the British.
While Peary writes that “it’s hard to tell if Lean is trying to impress us with the glorious scenery or the cinematography itself”, this comment doesn’t make much sense — he does impress us, but I’m not sure how or why this is problematic. India’s landscape is indeed gorgeous and awe-inspiring, and Ernest Day’s cinematography is stellar.
Meanwhile, the performances across the board — particularly by Davis, Ashcroft, and Banerjee:
— are outstanding, with just one exception: Lean’s selection of Alec Guinness to play a minor role as a Hindu-Brahmin professor feels decidedly antiquated and inappropriate. (They apparently didn’t get along well on set.)
However, Guinness is on screen for such little time that it doesn’t much impact the overall movie. This remains a powerful, finely crafted epic by a master director, and is well worth a one-time visit.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)