An Oxford Accident

Hi Michael,

now that I received my licentiate degree, and the days got very short in Sweden at the Yalda feast, I am frequently again spending the evenings in my moms home, watching movies. We use to select movies in alternating order, one day it’s me bringing a rather novel film, another day mom suggests one that she knows from her youth.
Yesterday she brought one that was quite popular when she was student, in the wild 70s. The title is Accident, and it is a quite complex story of students and teachers at an Oxford college. The main character, Stephen is an introvert philosophy professor contentedly married to Rosalind, but fearing emotional stultification he yearns for an affair with the enigmatic Anna, played by Jacqueline Sassard. In a typical midlife crisis situation he realises that this could either revitalise or ruin his life. Simultaneously, he is locked in a battle of duelling egos with his student William, whose youthful vitality he envies, and with his friend Charley, whose media prowess and sexual success he covets. The story probes a conflict between intellect and emotion, where an educated elite, who should at least know their own minds, seem incapable of understanding or controlling their inner passions. It is a study of materially comfortable but morally bankrupt people on an emotional collision course, culminating in an accident that will haunt the hero for the rest of his life (as its recollection at the end of the film implies).

Joseph Losey, the director and Harold Pinter, who wrote the screenplay, are graphically and beautifully detailing the things about England they loves — or, at least, those things about Oxford that they find delightful and serene.

You have the look out of the college study window of a gentle philosophy don into the courtyard below, where the green grass is kept neatly trimmed by a placid goat. You watch the main characters punting on the river, with its lazy ripples and its stately swans and see them playing tennis and cricket, lolling through a misty afternoon.

Or, going out into the country, where the don who is his moody hero lives in a pleasant house with a wife and kiddies, the director loves to show everything. He loves the way the light falls in the morning on the wide-board, deep-grained floors. He loves the distant sounds of train whistles and the drone of jets high in the sky above the open fields. He makes everything look so mellow and lovely with his color cameras and his way of dwelling idly upon them that you’d think there’d be no fly in the ointment of this most gracious English world.

But there is a fly in the ointment—a very small one—that has been put there by the screenplay’s writer, Harold Pinter.  It has to do with the dons vagrant longing for the beautiful Austrian student Anna, to whom he is officially the tutor, but as soon as he learns that she has been the mistress of another don, feels deeply cut.

The fact that this other don is not only one of his oldest friends, but is also an aggravating rival because of his playboy allures and success as TV commentator, doesn’t help matters any. Furthermore, our fellow feels he’s getting old.

All this is moodily remembered by our hero, whom Dirk Bogarde plays, in a night just after a terrible automobile accident has happened outside his door. The girl he desires, who was driving, is safe but her companion has been killed, and this companion was another of the don’s students—a young aristocrat to whom the girl was engaged.

Does that sound a little complicated? Well, it isn’t—and it is. It isn’t because, actually, the story that Mr. Pinter and Mr. Losey have to tell is simply a frail exploration of the wistfulness and loneliness of this don. It is a conventional study of the minor anxieties of a man who has everything to make him happy, and yet he isn’t. He is sad.

But it is complicated from the viewpoint of the person watching the film, because no clues whatsoever are given to the nature of the girl. She is beautiful and quietly mysterious as played by Jacqueline Sassard, but we have no indication of why she so lightly switches men. Her function in the picture is to set up an amoral mystery and serve as an unattainable object of desire for our sad-eyed don.

What we discovered when talking with my mom about the different characters and how they developed during the plot of the movie was the discrepancy between hidden emotions and verbal communication. From the very beginning you could guess that both Anna, the student, and Stephen, the teacher have the most deep feelings for each other, but none of them speaks out. They not only hide these feelings from the other acting person (the colleagues and friends), but from each other as well. You can only tell from a particular view in their eyes and from the sound of their vioces, when they talk trivia. One scene shows this pretty clearly: During a lazy garden picknick, Anna is laying in the sun, when William, her “official” partner asks to join him for a walk. She refuses, saying she’d prefer to stay there on the sunchair, so William goes for a walk alone. After a minute she tells Steven how much she likes this afternoon in the garden. He nods, and almost casually replies that he is about to go for a walk. And suddenly, merely 5 minutes after telling William she wants to stay there on the chair, she begs Stephen to take her on the walk with him. This short dialogue might have gone unnoticed by most of the audience, but to me it was the indication that you could guess the real feelings and wishes of the characters only indirectly, never by their outspoken words.

Hope you are doing fine
Take Care

2 Responses to An Oxford Accident

  1. radius says:

    Dearest Ghazal, my first association with Oxford accident was the frequent diving jump from one of the punt boats on the river Themes, when the boatsman navigates wrongly.
    I did not know the movie you saw with your mom, but thanks to the modern video streaming services, was able to watch it right away. I enjoyed the movie a lot, it is indeed one of the most undervalued british films in my view.
    You noticed the scene in the garden, when Anna first revfused to join Williams on a walk, but then asked Steven herself to go out with her. You are really very attentive for small details, but I agree that it is a key moment to understand the relationships. I guess another scene went unnoticed by you, but for me it was the counterpart to Anna Kareninas arrival by train : When Anna suddenly decided to leave Oxford after the accident, and while the other don reacts very baffled, Steven again keeps his sadness inside. I had a similar feeling three years ago, but the very last seconds of the movie suggest that there were no three other years for Stephen,
    hope you are doing alright

  2. ghazal says:

    yes, three years ago you gave me ear rings for farewell. i still wear them, but only for special occasions. many things happened accidentally, without myself knowing precisely what is right and what is wrong. in english language, >>accident<>accidentally<>slump<< (randomness) and "olycka" (accident).
    take care

    send from my Nokia Lumia

Hinterlasse eine Antwort

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind markiert *

AlphaOmega Captcha Classica  –  Enter Security Code

Du kannst folgende HTML-Tags benutzen: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>