4 January 2004 | cmf1261
A Psychological Drama of Great Poignancy
This is one of the most beautiful, and heartbreaking, films that I have ever seen. The story of a shell-shocked soldier who, in order to escape the horrors of the war in which he has been involved (WW I) retreats to some inner world of the past. He loses all sense of reality, and becomes entrenched in a time before his marriage, the loss of his child, and the pressures of adulthood. Played by the magnificent and tragically departed Alan Bates, the title character Captain Chris Baldry, takes refuge in a love that existed twenty years before, when he was a young man with his life in front of him. The object of his affection, Glenda Jackson, is now a middle aged woman, but he sees her with the eyes of love, and she is for him the youthful beauty with whom he fell in love decades ago. His wife, a brittle and uncaring Julie Christie, wants him to regain his sense of the present, because she misses her social status. His first love does not initially believe that he should be roused back to consciousness, because she wants him to remain in a happy, albeit unrealistic state. His cousin (played by an unusually good Ann-Margret), a woman who has loved him in secret since the days of their shared childhood, is in a middle place between the two, wanting him back, and yet appreciating the fact that his unawareness and his psychological trip backward in time is bringing him a sort of peace.
Ultimately, the women join forces and realize, with the help of a psychiatrist, that the man they love must be roused from his reverie. The final scene, in which he is brought face to face with reality, is wrenching and difficult, and Sir Alan is able to show with the straightening of his shoulders and the stiffness of his gait that he has returned, sadly, to the present. It is an unspeakably sad performance, of great beauty.
I was reminded, when watching this film, of another film which focused almost entirely on character as opposed to action: "Charly" a film based on the book "Flowers for Algernon" In that movie, which garnered an Academy Award as Best Actor for Cliff Robertson, depicted how an individual who has been moved into a different reality (a retarded man becomes, for a short while, intellectually gifted)can capture a few moments of happiness, which must be sacrificed when he returns to his prior state.
Similarly, the film 'Awakenings' with Robert De Niro tells the story of a man who languished in a coma for many years, and was allowed, through the use of an experimental drug, a few weeks of happiness, a few brief moments to experience life, before the veil of unconsciousness was once again drawn over him when the drugs stopped working.
These stories of people who find happiness in small, short snippets of time, are incredibly moving, and underscore the brevity of life, and the importance of living each moment to its fullest extent.
The Return of the Soldier is truly a tour de force, very sad, very beautiful, and incredibly well-acted. I would strongly recommend it to admirers of Alan Bates, and all those who want to be deeply engaged by a film.