If…. (1968) April 1st, 2020
If… is the first film in a trilogy starring Malcom McDowell as Mick Travis. All three films are available on the Criterion Channel until the end of April when they, and so many other extraordinary films, will no longer be available. Once again we decided to circumvent The List in favor of a film not long for the streaming world. The logic here was “What if we watch it at the end of the month, love it, and then we can’t watch the sequels?” Well, that wouldn’t do.
If…. and The Day of the Locust make an inadvertent, yet entierly appropriate depressive double-feature. The Day of the Locust is about exposing the harsh realities of ambition. If…. is about how helplessly despondent citizens will inevitably revolt against the social institutions oppressing them. Fair warning, if you choose to watch these films back to back it won’t be a fun pairing.
Malcolm McDowell plays Mick Travis, an older student at an all boys English boarding school. Authoritarian hierarchies in both the faculty and student body make life difficult for most boys there, especially Mick and his friends. The students are subjected to humiliation, corporal punishment and institutionalized sexual abuse. Lines of reality blur as the film progresses, revealing more horrors. Occasionally the film stock changes from color to black and white. I’d expect a disruptive visual change like that to be motivated, or be a deliberate artistic choice to separate one idea or theme from another. I hope the reasons behind these changes meant something to the filmmakers because they’re completely lost on me. Maybe those were reshoot scenes or they only had enough budget for a few more extra reels of black and white film.
Eventually the boys have had enough and seek their revenge on the powers that be. I trust this movie made a lot of sense to the audience of the time. It’s the late 60’s, Françosi Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 premiered 2 years earlier, the next summer Woodstock would be the hippie death knell, and in 7 years time the same cultural repression fueling If…. would spur the formation of the Sex Pistols. If…. is an amazing snapshot of the late 60’s angst that would blossom into the violent disillusionment of the 70’s. If…. I did any research I wouldn’t be surprised to learn If…. influenced many of the auteur directors of the 70’s.
O Lucky Man! is next in this trilogy with a TRT 2 minutes shy of 3 hours. I’m not sure if I liked If…. enough to invest three hours into the sequel, but I am intrigued to learn how the sequel reconciles the finale of If…. and I do like Helen Mirren. If…. not now, when?
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