Watched: February 2 2023
Director: Lindsay Anderson
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, David Wood, Richard Warwick, Christine Noonan, Anthony Nicholls, Peter Jeffrey
Runtime: 1h 51min
College House – a fucked up, disciplinarian boarding school (is there any other kind?). Among its students: Mick Travis. You know the type – the sort of guy whose brand of insolence and defiance is so ingrained in him you just cannot beat it out. Yes, we love him too. But that sort of attitude and his refusal to conform aren’t acceptable in polite society, so he must be cut down. And believe us, they try.
In If…, we are treated to a slice of normal British boarding school life: bullying, beatings, rape, truancy, less than engaged teachers and a strict hierarchy which is often abused. Being Norwegian, female, and ridiculously middle class, we have no idea how realistic this (insane) depiction is, but from what we’ve read and seen in other places, we fear it might be pretty accurate. As for plot, we don’t want to give too much away as we think everyone should see this for themselves. Suffice to say, Mick reaches his breaking point and shit goes off.
As you may have inferred from the previous paragraph, we loved this! Malcolm McDowell is hypnotic as Mick – his impertinence spews from his very pores, and we loved him in this role. This is not your normal teenage rebellion, he embodies it as a deep-rooted character trait that can’t be eradicated through corporal punishment – the second the prefects confront him and try to make him conform, they’ve lost the battle.
Also, can we talk about all male (or all-any-gender) boarding schools? What the actual fuck? Obviously, these schools have played a crucial role in fostering a culture where men don’t see women as human beings (when you never interact with them as equals, how would you?), where bullying and violence mean “building character,” where authority is absolute, and where non-conformity = death. And personally, we rather object to such a culture.
We loved the psycho romance with the waitress (how much of that actually happened? We’re guessing very little), the incredibly unengaged history teacher (if teaching was like this we would never think about leaving the profession), the slow build-up, the violent conclusion, and of course the magnetic Malcolm McDowell – He of the Intense EyesTM. Also the random guy who showed up at the end in full medieval armour. Honestly, we wouldn’t be surprised if this was normal ceremonial attire in the formal public school setting, but we like to imagine he just woke up that day feeling a bit medieval and decided to go for it. Overall, this is definitely a movie we will recommend to others, and one we won’t easily forget.
Side note: we spent a great deal of time trying to analyse why parts of the movie were in colour and parts in monochrome. We had many theories (conformity vs. non-conformity, reality vs. fantasy, etc.) although we struggled to see the connection between them. Then, once we finally gave up and googled it, we found out that it was just because the natural light they had to use in some scenes would mess with the colour quality and thus monochrome was used… Conclusion: not everything is symbolism.
What we learned: Education in Britain is like a nubile Cinderella: sparsely clad and much interfered with.
Next time: Night of the Living Dead (1968)