Monday, May 24, 2010

Remains of the Day

Yesterday I saw the film Remains of the Day again. What a powerful story, subtle and vivid, with so many profound insights. The film runs along two primary themes, the first being the heartbreak of unrequited love. (Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton, head of the women staff, is completely phenomenal.) The second story is about the fall of the House of Darlington, where Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) serves as head of the servants overall.

I think Hollywood is fond of these kinds of settings which show common folk like the rest of us "how the other half live."

The film is tragic on both of its levels. The manner in which Hopkins restrains all of his humanity in order to properly serve his master is sad. You could say that Miss Kenton was foolish to allow her heart to be captured by such a man, but he did have a measured dignity and he was an exceptional person.

The context for this story is around the important private meetings in which Lord Darlington and his fellow "gentlemen" work behind the scenes to enable Germany to become strong again. The setting is pre-WW2 and the naive attitudes of good will toward all stand in stark contrast to the events we all know will come to pass.

Two scenes especially struck me. There is a banquet scene in which all the Brit gentlemen give a toast to the woman from Nazi Germany. Christopher Reeve, an American legislator, is forced to speak up and sound the note for an opposing viewpoint, the minority opinion. He suggests that the world has changed and cutting deals with global powers should be left to the professionals. This is the era of Realpolitik, not a parlor game.

The second scene which especially stood out for me in this viewing was the one in which a friend of Lord Darlington questions Mr. Stevens about various international and political problems. To each complex question, Mr. Stevens replies, "I wouldn't know, sir," or "I'm really not in a position to understand, sir." The interrogator then turns to Lord Darlington, having made his point that the common people really should not have the power to decide matters of which they have not understanding.

Trivia: In one scene Mr. Stevens is ironing the pages of the London Times. The newspaper is to be presented crisp and clean to the master of the house. This is the same London Times you see here atop this page.

Anyways, the film is worth seeing, and the book even more so.

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