O Lucky Man!

O Lucky Man!


Over the course of its tru­ly epic length of 177 min­utes, Lind­say Ander­son’s O Lucky Man! (1973) picks up the con­tin­u­ing saga of Mick Travis (Mal­colm McDow­ell) from If… (1968; read The Dork Report Review). While If.… used a British pub­lic school as a metaphor­i­cal micro­cosm with which to sat­i­rize British class cul­ture, O Lucky Man! widens its lens to take in all of Eng­land for its bleak por­trait of cap­i­tal­ism tri­umphant. Travis appears to have matured out of his school­boy fan­ta­sy of per­pe­trat­ing a school mas­sacre and has since joined the cor­po­rate world. Because of McDowell’s inher­ent­ly imp­ish per­sona, one might not expect his char­ac­ter here to be sin­cere, but Travis is now ruth­less and gen­uine­ly will­ing to endure any­thing to climb the lad­der of prof­it and social advance­ment. Ear­ly on, he is urged by a senior col­league to “try not to die like a dog,” but it’s a warn­ing he is nev­er equipped to quite com­pre­hend.

O Lucky Man!When do we live?

His jour­ney is so long and involved that it would hard­ly count as a spoil­er to recount it here: Travis is pro­mot­ed from the low­est rung on the cor­po­rate lad­der all the way up to a high-lev­el mis­sion set up to fail. As he is ordered around the Eng­lish coun­try­side by his office­bound supe­ri­ors, he becomes lost on the way to Scot­land, is arrest­ed and tor­tured by the army, sur­vives a mil­i­tary strike by an unseen ene­my, stum­bles into an idyll, is nursed back to health (er, lit­er­al­ly), donates his body to med­ical research, falls in with Alan Price’s tour­ing band (includ­ing groupie Patri­cia (Helen Mir­ren)), talks his way into the employ of the most venal busi­ness­man in Eng­land after his pre­vi­ous assistant’s time­ly sui­cide (a prime exam­ple of Travis’ alleged “luck”), becomes par­ty to ille­gal chem­i­cal weapons sales in a cor­po­rate-fund­ed civ­il war in a third-world nation, takes the fall for his boss, is impris­oned to five years of hard labor, is evi­dent­ly reformed, tries and fails to talk a poor woman out of sui­cide with a hilar­i­ous litany of trite plat­i­tudes, is robbed and becomes home­less, tries to pros­e­ly­tize like Jesus and is, final­ly and fit­ting­ly, stoned by his peers. But in the the end, he is dis­cov­ered as a future movie star.

O Lucky Man!So long and thanks for the milk

An ear­ly form of David Sherwin’s script was writ­ten by McDow­ell him­self, based on his own expe­ri­ences as a cof­fee sales­man. I think it’s fair to pre­sume that the begin­ning and end­ing are drawn direct­ly from McDowell’s life sto­ry. At oppo­site ends of the film, the for­tu­nate Travis is cho­sen from the mass­es for high­er call­ings. The young man at the begin­ning is all too eager to com­mence his jour­ney, but the beat­en-down and dis­il­lu­sioned man at the end is no longer able to take any plea­sure out of his unlucky luck.

Must read: every­thing you could pos­si­bly want to know about O Lucky Man, from MalcolmMcDowell.net

Offi­cial movie site: www.lindsayanderson.com/o_lucky_man.html

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.




If.… is the first in direc­tor Lind­say Anderson’s tril­o­gy of films fea­tur­ing Mal­colm McDow­ell as the Mick Travis, whose mis­ad­ven­tures con­tin­ue in O Lucky Man! and Bri­tan­nia Hos­pi­tal. Every­thing I read about the tril­o­gy repeats the same word to descibe Travis: “every­man.” On the evi­dence, I take this to mean Travis is a blank slate, a shape­less per­son pushed and mold­ed by the forces of soci­ety about him. If.… begins with the epi­gram “Wis­dom is the prin­ci­pal thing; there­fore get wis­dom; and with all thy get­ting, get under­stand­ing” from The Book of Proverbs, but an even bet­ter state­ment of the film’s themes is spo­ken my Travis him­self: “When do we live? That’s what I want to know.”

The ini­tial­ly real­is­tic por­tray­al of life at a British pub­lic school, filmed at Chel­tenham Col­lege but referred to sim­ply as “Col­lege”, includes frank depic­tions of the cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment and homo­sex­u­al­i­ty (most­ly repressed but in one case, gen­uine young love). The pupils’ lives are so reg­i­ment­ed and ordered that even vir­tu­ous activ­i­ties such as study­ing are for­bid­den if not con­duct­ed at the prop­er time and place. Most of the ram­pant cru­el­ty and capri­cious­ness comes from Whips (the senior class, with priv­i­leges) and is sanc­tioned, or rather, will­ful­ly ignored by the aloof adult fac­ul­ty. It becomes clear the school is satir­i­cal micro­cosm of the British class soci­ety: a self-per­pet­u­at­ing sys­tem in which the young under­class­men “Scum” even­tu­al­ly grow into the roles of the oppres­sors.

If....I think I’ll call you Mini-Mal­colm

Much of the stu­dents’ time is pre­oc­cu­pied with para­mil­i­tary war games couched in reli­gion. As the school chap­lain admon­ish­es them, “Jesus is your com­mand­ing offi­cer.” The ser­mon also instructs that deser­tion is the worst wartime crime, and as all Chris­tians are born with orig­i­nal sin, all are like­wise desert­ers. Dur­ing one war game, Travis and friends delib­er­ate­ly shoot live rounds at their own com­rades. Curi­ous­ly, the head­mas­ter mild­ly scolds them as if they had com­mit­ted an infrac­tion as naughty as nip­ping at the com­mu­nal wine. But the first irrefutable instance of the film’s turn towards sur­re­al­i­ty is when the head­mas­ter pro­duces a fac­ul­ty mem­ber from with­in a cup­board draw­er for whom Travis to apol­o­gize.

From this point on, it is clear at least some of Travis’ expe­ri­ences are fan­ta­sy. And what do teenage boys fan­ta­size about but hook­ing up with hot girls and vio­lent­ly lash­ing out at ene­mies? He beds a beau­ti­ful wait­ress (Chris­tine Noo­nan) in a vio­lent­ly ani­mal­is­tic cou­pling, who might very well be anoth­er fig­ment of his imag­i­na­tion. Togeth­er they uncov­er a cache of weapons and pick­led med­ical anom­alies in the school base­ment (his sub­con­scious?), includ­ing a grotesque human fetus. Travis’ anar­chic ado­les­cent fan­tasies cli­max with a mas­sive school shoot­ing dur­ing a nau­se­at­ing­ly patri­ot­ic fes­ti­val hon­or­ing The Cru­sades. Unlike the con­sid­er­ably more trag­ic school shoot­ings typ­i­cal to films made in an era of actu­al teen mas­sacres like Columbine (in films as diverse as Ele­phant, Empire Falls, and The Bas­ket­ball Diaries), Travis’ war is a com­i­cal­ly car­ni­va­lesque affair and the con­se­quences fall off­screen.

If....Mmmf mmmmf mmff mmmmfff.…


• The oth­er­wise spiffy Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion DVD edi­tion appears to be a cen­sored cut, not the X-rat­ed full ver­sion orig­i­nal­ly screened in some parts of the world.

• The assis­tant direc­tor was Steven Frears, who went on to direct Dan­ger­ous Liaisons, High Fideli­ty, and The Queen. In the Cri­te­ri­on DVD bonus fea­tures, Frears states that If.… was filmed at the same time as the Paris Riots in 1968, lend­ing pow­er­ful imme­di­a­cy to the theme of vio­lent stu­dent rebel­lion.

• The film alter­nates between black & white and col­or film stock. There are con­flict­ing expla­na­tions accord­ing to Wikipedia, but the pri­ma­ry moti­va­tions seemed to have been that of bud­get and time (black & white film tak­ing less time to light for). Ander­son, how­ev­er, liked the “tex­ture” and con­tin­ued to use the device. It is appar­ent­ly not to be under­stood to delin­eate real­i­ty vs. fan­ta­sy.

• Mick repeat­ed­ly plays the music “Sanc­tus” from Mis­sa Luba, an African-tinged ver­sion of the Latin Mass. Dif­fi­cult for mod­ern ears to believe, but it was a hit sin­gle at the time. (also from Wikipedia)

• Full of inter­est­ing tid­bits, Wikipedia also cites a visu­al allu­sion to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger in McDowell’s first appear­ance, show­cas­ing his instant­ly rec­og­niz­able eyes.

Must read: every­thing you could pos­si­bly want to know about If.… from MalcolmMcDowell.net

Offi­cial movie site: www.lindsayanderson.com/if.html

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.