With this being my fourth lap around the blindspot circuit, I have come to understand certain tendencies to the course. Every film comes with expectations, so it’s on me to get beyond those expectations. It’s not my mission to decide whether or not a film is good, but instead what about it surprises, what it evokes, what about it endures, and how it all transcends its stigma. Essentially, each experience just needs to be considered for how it plays…not how it’s supposed to play.
So if it doesn’t play to thunderous applause, so be it.
WITHNAIL & I is about a curious friendship between two flatmates. The pair are broke, slobs, educated-but-underachieving, and generally not contributing to society. After a series of mishaps including possible eviction, general slovenliness, and narrowly avoiding assault, the two flee their London habitat for a weekend away at the country cottage of Withnail’s uncle Monty.
It’s there that things go from odd to downright absurd. The boys seemed poised to starve, and poised to continually be stuck in the mud thanks to the plastic bags on their feet in lieu of rubber boots. Happily, Uncle Monty arrives, and offers to look after them…but even his kind hand seems to come with a pocketful of oddities.
Clearly, Withnail and Marwood (the titular “I”) don’t belong in London or the country…begging the question, just where do they belong?
As I tried to make heads or tails of WITHNAIL & I, I was reminded of the odd friendships I’ve had through the years. You’ve probably had them too; the ones that begin innocently enough, and often by way of proximity. the first thing you know, you’re being cordial with the person at the next desk, the next thing you know you’re taking lunch at the same time. Eventually, you find yourselves hanging out more and more, until one of you realizes the other isn;t the sort of person you thought…but by then it’s too late.
How do we back away gently? How do we find the excuse not to take the same bus or break at the same time we usually do? Better yet, how do we handle it if we are the ones being jilted? I gotta believe that’s the story behind Withnail and Marwood. One day they started talking, the next they were bosom buddies. By the time Marwood figured out Withnail was a nutter, it was too late to start making excuses about catching an earlier train.
Or maybe they were actually made for one another. Perhaps there is no yin and no yang to this pairing, but instead a pair of yins who don’t know how to tell the other how to yang. or maybe they do and just don’t want to bring it up. It calls to mind a joke I once heard about a masochist who met a sadist, and when the former said “Hurt me”, the latter replied “No”.
While the friendship of Marwood and Withnail brought to mind some of my more curious interactions in the past, I struggled to connect with much else about this film. As I watched this curious weekend at the cottage play out, I found that the events were odd, but not quite odd enough. You know how before a tee-shirt can be considered vintage, it must first be considered out-of-style? That’s where I found WITHNAIL & I. It was odd, but not quite odd enough. It didn’t carry the dark edge of TRAINSPOTTING, nor the mod chic of BLOW UP. It encapsulated a restlessness I’ve never felt, an entitlement I’ve never subscribed to, and a disposition I’ve never held.
Not that such things are essential to enjoying a film, of course. I’m not a suicidal lad fascinated by an older woman either, but that didn’t stop me from falling head-over-heels for HAROLD AND MAUDE earlier this year.
I suppose my point is that besides the general oddity and occasional wry wit, this movie didn’t give me much to sink my teeth into. Few sequences will burrow into my memory…few photographic images will burn into my retinas. This was a film about a time and a feeling, but it’s a time I didn’t experience, and a feeling I’ve never felt.
When it comes down to it, I feel like my mild apathy towards WITHNAIL & I is because I’m not something enough. Perhaps I’m not old enough…not British enough…not smart enough…not hard enough done-by…not well enough read. There’s something inherent in this film’s DNA that is not in mine, and because of that, the cult chord that it struck for so many wasn’t struck for me. I didn’t dislike the film – not by a longshot – but I don’t feel as though I’ve been living a deeply sheltered existence for not seeing it before now.
That’s been the biggest advantage of this series – filling in the gaps of my film literacy and understanding how some of these artistic and cultural building blocks laid the foundation for the structures I love. I don’t see that in WITHNAIL. I don’t feel enriched or enlightened. Up until now it’s a film that has only been known to me by title, and now it will likely fade back into that.
But maybe I missed something. Maybe someone like Anna, Nick, or Steven can tell me what the film did for them, and I can use that to reconsider what I experienced.
In the meantime, I’m off to drink some red wine and listen to The Clash. Oh wait – maybe I was influenced by the film after all!
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for May so far…
Becca Sharp watched Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN
Nikhat Zahra watched…well…a bunch of films
Josh watched THE MIRROR
Jenna & Allie watched MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO
Courtney Small watched MY DINNER WITH ANDRE
Keisha watched THE GREAT ESCAPE
Dan watched IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
Dell watched SUPERMAN II
Jordan watched GALLIPOLI
Anna watched SHAME
Ruth watched BREATHLESS
Katy Rochelle watched THIS IS SPINAL TAAP
John Hitchcock watched THE KILLING
Natasha watched THE GODFATHER 2
Jay Cluitt watched INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)
Chris watched ANDREI RUBLEV
James watched TROIS COULEURS: ROUGE
Brittani watched PRIMAL FEAR
Sean Kelly watched THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE
Kevin watched 12 ANGRY MEN
Paskalis watched BOOGIE NIGHTS
Hunter watched THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE
Zöe watched TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Steven watched CHARULATA
Ryan watched THE COMPANY YOU KEEP