26 October 2003 | KatharineFanatic
Not all tales have happy endings
There are many films that are so controversial yet so beautiful, they appeal to only a select number of individuals. "Oscar & Lucinda" is one such triumph. It manages to border on heresy and yet sustain profoundness. Altogether a masterful piece of work from one of my favorite directors (Armstrong also filmed "Charlotte Gray," and "Little Women"), with an absolutely stunning, star-studded (before they were "big") cast.
You simply cannot comment on the film without considering the two leading cast members. Cate Blanchett is stunning here. She was beautiful, aloof, and impressive as "Elizabeth," but her role as the uncertain yet adventurous Lucinda is extremely memorable. Note her childish transformation into womanhood -- the discovery that not all tales have happy endings, that love eventually leads to sorrow. Her scenes with Ralph Fiennes literally crackle with intensity. These are two actors who manage to convince us they're not acting. The passion and devotion put into the role gives the film it's sparkle beyond the stunning cinematography and absolutely breathtaking musical score. Ralph Fiennes is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors. He's extremely versatile and never shies away from challenging roles, whether it's a heartless Nazi in WWII, a Cambridge professor caught up in the throes of a quiz show scandal, or the impassioned Evgene Onegin. With "Oscar" we see him literally at his finest. The appropriately-nicknamed Academy Award should have been handed to him the day this sweet little Australian film premiered. His Oscar is passionate, guilt-ridden, complex, and utterly sweet. If you're not in tears by the end, you've not managed to give your heart over to one of the most fascinating literary characters ever created.
The sub-roles are all very good (Richard Roxburg in yet ANOTHER 'villainous' lead, but no one minds his untimely demise; Cirian Hinds in the upper-crust role of a minister shocked by his lady friend's gambling habits, even Geoffrey Rush as the unseen narrorator) and lend themselves to a highly romantic atmosphere. I love a slowly unfolding, deep love story but dislike superficial attachments. In the course of this film you believe Oscar & Lucinda actually get to know one another. They're involved in a series of "narrow hits and misses," which make the ending all the more tragic. They "connect" in a way other people cannot; in a world full of round holes, two square pegs make the perfect match.
The religious aspect of this film is also highly interesting. As a Christian myself, I regard anything bordering on heresy with wary suspicion. At first glance, the film borderlines on blasphemy, as Oscar so prudently considers in a key scene ("... unless it is blasphemy to consider mortal pleasure on the level of the divine!") when comparing eternal salvation to gambling ("It's all a gamble, isn't it?"), but if you take the time to explore it more fully, there are very realistic truths tucked in with the uncertainties. Oscar eventually does find Truth and clings to his beliefs to the bitter end. The rivalry between different denominations is also notable.
Older viewers seeking enthralling but not necessarily uplifting entertainment will find "Oscar & Lucinda" an excellent way to spend a couple of hours, particularly in a group. There is one scene of sexual content that is offensive (although clothed and necessary to the plot; for my own enjoyment, I always skip this provincial scene) but otherwise the film is surprisingly light in content. But it's a movie you shouldn't enter lightly. Out of the group of friends I showed it to one weekend, two out of five found it "depressing." But the rest of us were enthralled.