Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Pursuit of Happiness (1971)

It's a tortuous film - in everything: the pace at which impedingly it flows; the confused lives that the protagonists lead; and, perhaps the best of all, the plot, always seeking a direction, a new meaning, a new perspective. It's a film which used to be made in America in those days - the present day fake sentimentality had not come yet, the passing of values and grit from father to son had not yet become the ritual (maybe, not had come only as a 'inspiring story'), and experiments were being made and fresh films were being made - people had tired of vaudevilles and gold digging musicals, of gunslinging inperturbable heroes, of epic films of magnificient budgets, and there was a return, with different editing and cinematographic techniques, to the films of 1940s - the kind of films that you experienced with Kings Row.

It is the hero (Michael Sarrazin) here who really captivates the viewer - so sensously beautiful, yet lives up to his own ideals, and tries to live by them. The cast selected for the film is, I can say, perfect. The hero is captivatingly beautiful, yet looks a greenhorn and at the same time intelligent. He has always some loose ends about him - as if he has misplaced some keys in his child life, and is still searching for them with a lost look, not knowing where they might be, how they look like, not knowing at times what is it he is looking for. And yet, he has a disciple. His girl. She has an exuberant energy and faithfulness - all ready at her beloved's feet; she believes in him implicitly, at all times, as one superior to herself. Rarely do you see good, strong characterizations like that in a film.

Especially, the American films. The feminist tone or lack of it that has to be imparted to each of the characters, most of times deliberately, takes away the charm almost invariably. Too much is measured - very less is natural. Pursuit of Happiness shows what vigour does freshness lend to a film. The film is a very simple story of an intelligent, atheist young man, who leans a little towards communism because of his ready identification with the grief of others, a ready ability to strike a chord in himself for others, and his greenhornness. He hails from a very rich family, but has, in effect, renounced his wealth, and his didactorial grandmother, selfish and narrow aunt, and fond and intelligent father. His world just centers around his dreams and his efforts to 'correct' this world, and his beloved. Until fate strikes! And compels him to face this world as it is, with no place of refuge. The controversial point is that he decides to run away, at the end of it, fed up from the system that civilised societies work on.

Or, can you call it running? I do not. Primarily, only because he spoke to the gay black prisoner, only because 'he was nice' - there was no other motive. Neither the sexual or romantic one - as the prosecution wanted to frame the case; nor any reasoning in the young man that since he believes such and such things, so he must not debar from anyone's company and he would speak to all, and pompously get into everyone's broth. No! His only motives, throughout the film, are impulsive, and all his impulses are driven by a good and free heart - a man who does not fear anybody, any system in this world; he hates more the cycle of lies and poses that he would have to affect, even for a moment, to abide by the civilisation, to abide by what would be worldlywise good for him. But, the tragedy on which the film hinges, is that he refuses to barter his soul, even 'for a week'. This is where the film stands apart. Rest - a good background score, a great song, some very good cinematography angles and the New York locales, side actors who play their parts well, the 1500 that the greenhorn easily gives just so as to be able to run away - fall in their due places.

For a more wholesome treatment, you can go to (rarely do you find such brilliantly written reviews).