Saturday, August 2, 2008

GOD'S COPY: (Bk. Trade Slang) an exceptionally fine example, usually of a rare book.

Brideshead Revisted (1945) novel by Evelyn Waugh - recent film release July, 2008, Encosse Films distributed by Miramax.

Christian author, Gilbert K. Chesterton, would be somewhat as confused as any audience is now with seeing the recent film based on Evelyn Waugh's classic work. It is now marketed by the filmmkaers under the same name. Any resemblance among actors, script, and theme - as if somehow aligned with the author's original work - would not be called Brideshead Revisited but rather better entitled Brideshead Lost.

This is because it is well known by literary critics familiar with Waugh's plot and character construct, that the author's intent when writing Brideshead Revisited was to expose a doubtful secular world to God's faithful love and divine grace. In that Waugh's own correspondence with his agent expresses this intent, he drew upon Christian works like those of Chesterton to pepper dialogue between characters, This is well known by scholars and college students alike studying literature in any serious way.. Waugh's motivation for his novel was to drive home what he had found through his conversion to Catholicism and beyond.

Instead, this film is on a mission of it's own. Even what that mission is cannot be said to be clear. Beautifully filmed, cast and costumed with aplomb, any audience can not help but recognize the great promise of delight and awe offered by the characters who tug at the heart of theater goers. But tug, is all that their moral compass can allow. There is no magnetic field from which that compass can draw it's power. Unlike the novel, this film has no power at all. Each character is lost, never to be found. Any redeeming value the film might have offered by the mere richness of the material is lost because the plot, characters, and conflict arcs Waugh so carefully put together with such acclaim have been abyssmally misconstrued.

This is not to say that Waugh attempted in his novel to sugar coat what can be religious eccentricities or the variety of ways in which religious conscience can manifest itself. To avoid those topics would make the very religious faith the author had personally embraced appear vapid and unreal. In the film, the atheist protagonist, Charles Ryder, has no real conflict to endure. Instead, he marches with great indifference among new found friends and acquaintenances, he presumably comes to care very much about. The antagonists, by way of a Catholic family named Flyte and it's individual members, are plastic, pathetic and unreal. Their faith is not Catholic but rather a characature. It is only in being real and believable that Waugh could hope to make his point. And it is, as with any author's point, his and his alone. The reinterpretation of Waugh's work does not rise to the level of artistic license but rather the absurd.

Here, the filmmakers attempt to high jack the culture, the history of the era in which the film is set and many elements of it's inherent authenticity is bewildering. Set at Oxford University as the gathering place for homosexual laisons, as well as, depicting the prayers of a devout Catholic grandmother with her rosary being offered for the soul of her grandson, Sebastian Flyte's, decidely deviant conduct begins the series of pre-suppositions the audience is expected to perhaps endure if not overlook entirely though portrayed at odds with the developing plot. .

In 1945 when the Waugh's novel was published, homosexuality was not "out of the closet" nor likely prayed about in aristocratic households. Did anyone of the era even dare to speak the word? To be gay was not gay, it was an abomination. When devout Catholics in the film are portrayed as not just unaccepting but out-of-step with what is real and necessary in a homosexual worlk, it's as if the antagonists just aren't hip enough to understand.what many in the popular culture accepts now. Not so in the years of the European wars. It's as if the filmmakers themselves aren't hip enough to understand what they read much less recreate on a screen as a believable plot. It is that very disparity between working off Waugh's theme that has the script fall so terribly short. What the actors say to each other is out of sync unless set in England in the 1990's. Even then, one cannot be sure.

It would seem inconsistent with history to conceive of scenes that are so off the mark for the historical timeline. Instead, the scenes that make an effort to find audience sympathy for the plight of gays at the hands of Catholics fall totally short of portraying what the author writes. Nowhere in the novel is the relationship between the protagonist, Charles Ryder, and Sebastian Flyte, explored as homosexual or even outlined to be specific gay. In point of fact, Waugh so obscured what the relationship of these two characters even was, it is one of the more recent developments of debate in this day and age. That was not the case in 1945 much less the wartime era in which the film and book are set. At the time of the books release and subsequent success, to be gay was not a part of British social consciousness.

However, to rididule religious belief or present Catholic priests as mindless vodooists tracking down homosexuals or forcing sacramental life upon unwilling religous fundamentalists is not at all the nature of Waugh's work. How could any flimmaker get this plot so wrong? From all appearances, it was purposeful.

What is even more unsettling about the way the characters are portrayed in the film that I just saw, is that Waugh suspected secular resistance to what he was trying to convey. And so it was that he attempted to provide a rich theme of moral struggle with the sinceere desire to encourage hope among all who will oneday face that faithful "Hound of Heaven," The audacity of that hope is Waugh's Catholicism and the faith that he himself had found.

It is an audacity that presents this work on the screen but there is no hope for what I found,

No comments: