Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Confession: I have a soft spot for English dandies. Hence, the obsession with Oscar Wilde, late Victorian poetry, and bowler hats. Love love LOVE bowler hats. So, lit nerd that I am, I went to see Brideshead Revisited for free at my local Landmark.
My coworkers made fun of me relentlessly. For someone so adamantly against the upper classes, I suddenly had the urge to see a bunch of obnoxiously wealthy British people deal with their obnoxiously wealthy British problems. I was, in fact, the only employee who saw this movie. And, strangely enough, I liked it.
Based on Evelyn Waugh's novel, "Brideshead Revisited" is, above all else, about Catholicism. Waugh was writing in the tradition of many Victorian poets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins or Coolidge: a (gay) dandy who, upon discovering Catholicism, is consumed by guilt due to his sexual preference. It's an oft-recurring tale. The original title of the book was "Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder," and according to my beloved Wikipedia, "Waugh wrote that the novel "deals with what is theologically termed 'the operation of Grace', that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself".' So the book is about the protagonist's eventual conversion to Catholicism.
The movie, however, is far more ambiguous about Catholicism. Ryder, self-proclaimed atheist and ambiguously-sexed dreamboat (Matthew Goode, who will soon play Ozymandias in the upcoming Watchmen film!), befriends a flamboyant dandy in his first year at Oxford. The dandy, Sebastian Flyte, introduces Ryder to his wealthy family, including his sister Julia. A love triangle ensues, complicated by immense Catholic guilt from the Flyte children: self-proclaimed "sinners" and "heathens." Instead of being Catholic, the film is instead critical. We see characters driven insane by guilt, by their unstoppable desires. The film seems to wish all Catholics were of the Italian breed, as voiced by the Flyte father's Italian mistress: "Us Italians are different; there's not so much guilt. We follow our hearts, and then confess after." If only all Catholics were so lighthearted. After "Brideshead," Catholicism is one rabbit hole I wouldn't like to fall into, thank you very much.