22 March 2015 | petrelet
Unusual, surreal, memorable work of art.
This movie isn't for everybody. Huston, Taylor, Brando and the rest of the cast took some serious artistic risks back in 1967, and a lot of people didn't like the product; 50 years on, a lot of people still won't.
If one comes to it cold, hearing only that it is only a movie about "a closeted homosexual in the military", which is true of the Brando character, and expects some kind of serious dramatic narrative experience - like for example in "The Sergeant" which also came out in 1968 - the approach of "Reflections", which I think is not unlike that of a Beckett play, will be a surprise, and one might say, "this is a weird movie - it's not a good drama."
But I believe that would be a mistake. I don't mean that one kind of approach is "better" than the other, only that different kinds of movies with different kinds of artistic excellence as their goals shouldn't be measured by the same yardstick.
The action of this film is pretty much indifferent to place and setting; it doesn't need to be in the South and it doesn't need to be on a military base. It is sometime in the period from 1945-1960 when people of privilege spent their evenings at each other's houses, playing cards and drinking way more hard liquor than today. In fact the time and setting blurred in my view into a sort of dreamlike background, not demanding to be like a real place or time.
There are two military officers. There are their wives, whose thwarted lives are filled by avocations and disorders - sex, alcohol, and horsewomanship, or art, classical music, and depression. Their wives have admirers. One is the enlisted man played by Robert Forster, who elicits and then upsets one category after another. Another is the Filipino servant played by Zorro David (his only movie ever) with flamboyant swishiness, but is he really gay or are we being tempted to overassume? It's only what we see and judge, and neither can be trusted.
All have secrets, concealing who they really are while trying to figure out who the other people are, sometimes successfully, more often not. People read people and situations incorrectly and act upon their bad understanding and send the activity off in another direction. When people think they are unobserved they act much differently, comforting themselves in ways that are not provided for in the conventions that surround them. To borrow the thoughts of a character, they are all square pegs trying to deal with the round holes they have been hammered into by others or themselves.
And if that all reads sort of like the universal experience of people, that's sort of the point, I think.
I don't think it's perfect, but every time I try to pick a flaw I start to wonder if the artists didn't intend it just that way for a reason. Some detractors have noted that the Brando character's accent is just incomprehensible at times - I turned on closed captioning eventually. But then at one of those times he was giving instructions to a subordinate, who then doesn't carry them out properly, so was this on purpose? I didn't understand why the frenzied camera work in the final scene was done that way either. But was it meant to convey something? These people are not easily dismissed.