This is one of my favorite movies. I love the crazy dialogue and over-the-top direction and performances, but THAT is the glory of vintage-era Ken Russell. It also tells a great and moving story… one that could more accurately have been titled Men In Love.
The film follows two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun, played by Jennie Linden and the always-incredible Glenda Jackson [who won best actress for this], as they hook up with two men, the quiet and spiritual Rupert, played by Alan Bates, and bottled rage reservoir Gerald, played by Oliver Reed. The movie explores and contrasts the relationships of the two couples as Ursula and Rupert learn to coexist despite their temperamental differences, while Gudrun and Gerald feeding on each other’s weaknesses, with the emotionally manipulative Gudrun gradually destroying the bottled-up Gerald. But while all this is happening Rupert is yearning for Gerald, and that’s the aspect I’m most interested in here.
You see, Rupert wants to love Gerald [and so do I], with a love equal but different than the love he has for his wife. But Gerald ain’t having it [even after cockteasing poor Rupert by fixing him with a smoldering look and saying “Do you think a woman, and ONLY a woman, will ever make your life?”], and he rebuffs poor Rupert at every turn.
Oh, did I mention that the two men wrestle in the nude?
Yup, they sure do. My jaw was ON THE FLOOR at this scene the first time I watched this movie. Gerald says “Huh, I feel tense,” and Rupert says “Well, let’s do some nude wrestling,” and that’s exactly what they do. To say that there’s some homoeroticism going on would be putting it mildly. Immediately after this, when they’re still all naked and sweaty, having had their symbolic orgasm [you’ll know it when you see it], Rupert makes his first big play for Gerald, who gives him the cold shoulder.
SPOILERS!! THIS PARAGRAPH REVEALS THE ENDING!!
Eventually the four of them go on a skiing holiday together, which of course proves disastrous, as Gudrun takes up with a flaming fag sculptor whose flamboyancy aggravates the unresolved issues of masculine identity that Gerald is unable to reconcile within himself. Rupert and Ursula leave early, with Rupert offering his love to Gerald once more before leaving, which Gerald refuses. Things go even worse after they leave, with the castrating Gudrun finally crushing Gerald’s very identity as a man, and Gerald walks out into the snow to die.
Rupert cries over the body, and says to his wife “He should have loved ME.” Then there’s a great ending where Ursula quizzes Rupert about the love he wanted with Gerald. He explains that he wanted a separate love, but equal to the one he shares with her. She says “You can’t have it because it’s not possible… it’s a perversion.” He simply replies: “I don’t believe that.” She looks up, the frame freezes, and the music goes crazy. The end!
< < < SPOILERS END
In addition to everything else it accomplishes in terms of the complex relationships it delineates between the men and the women, it also tells a very beautiful and sad homosexual love story. The screenplay fairly faithfully follows the book, and much of the WHACKED-OUT dialogue is adapted very well from the novel. I re-read the novel recently, and this is one of those miraculous adaptations that amaze that the book simply COULD have been adapted so faithfully … because in my opinion the novel is a bit of a mess. Imagine my surprise upon reinvestigation to see that the screenplay was written by none other than LARRY KRAMER!
In the spirit of the novel, the scenes and dialogue are symbolic to the point of ridiculousness, but the magic of Ken Russell makes it work. It’s as though the movie as a whole is taking place on the plane of metaphor, so all the wild flights of fancy work almost expressionistically, and it works to heighten the emotion.
The performances are all good. Don’t miss [though you couldn’t possibly] Eleanor Bron’s wonderful turn as Hermione. Let it also be said that Oliver Reed as Gerald is a smoldering HUNK of MAN. That whole emotionally-stunted, bass-voiced, mustachioed-industry-baron with great posture thing just makes me crazy. Glenda Jackson is wonderful, as usual. She’s one of those actresses who just sort of attracts your gaze no matter what she’s doing.
I don’t have much else to say… this is just a flat-out good movie, with an intelligent script, interesting direction, great performances… it just all comes together in this fascinating movie.