Friday, December 31, 2010

#222 A Passage to India (1984)


Director: David Lean

Cast: Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox, Alec Guinness, Nigel Havers, Richard Wilson, Antonia Pemberton, Michael Culver, Art Malik, Saeed Jaffrey

The doomed friendship between a young Englishwoman and Indian doctor erupts when she accuses him of rape after a mysterious, frightening incident during a tour of Indian caverns. The same director that brings you Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia (haven't viewed the latter yet), brings you this period-destination film based on the novel by E.M. Forster (1942).

Adela (Davis) and Mrs. Moore (Ashcroft) are Brits who have just arrived in India (currently colonized by the British) to visit and prepare for Adela's engagement to the city magistrate. Upon arrival, they find they are paraded from British camp and club to British houses to British teas, never experiencing the real India. At one particular event meant to bring Indians and British together, they are appalled at the deplorable treatment that the British give the Indian members of the party. They are awakened to the debilitating prejudices that cripple the relationship of the two nations.

On a moonlight night, Mrs. Moore creeps out of her room into a Hindu mosque. She finds there a young Indian doctor named Dr. Aziz (Banerjee), and in this holy dwelling, they discover kindness in one another. The Indian doctor is beyond thrilled to find that a kind-hearted Brit does exist, and he promises to show her the real India. He offers to take her and Adela to visit some landmark caves.

Dr. Aziz spends loads of money preparing a "proper English" experience, purchasing loads of servants to even carry a table and chairs to the top of the peaks for their afternoon cup of port. After exploring the first cave, Mrs. Moore feels ill and disturbed by its alarming echoes, and she sends Adela on with Dr. Aziz alone. As the two journey together, they become closer, even comfortable enough to discuss the intimate details of their private lives. When Adela ventures into a cave on her own, a mysterious, spiritual hallucination takes place, and later in court, she accuses Dr. Aziz of raping her.

Of course, this film is an adaptation, so it relies on a screenplay to explain the complex emotions of characters which a book can so easily tell us. The out-of-place experiences had by Adela are highlighted in a pointed scene where she travels by bike to a ruined temple, finding herself shocked by her attraction to erotic coupling statues. Dr. Aziz realizes the complicated nature of his friendship with Mrs. Moore when his fellow people chant her name like a spirited-saviour, when really it is she who fled the court proceedings of Dr. Aziz, unwilling to testify in his honor.

The film is paced almost identically to Bridge on the River Kwai, and I noted that fact even before I realized it shared a director and lead actor with the film. Although the story is full and is built for tons of emotion, I found it somewhat stripped of those elements in the attempt at condensing a large novel into a short, cohesive film. I support its inclusion on the 1001 list nevertheless. A positive viewing experience.

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