Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Review of: “If…”
By: Brian CotnoirThe only way I could possibly describe the 1968 British film “If…” is a cluster fuck of total randomness. Seriously, the film makes no sense. And I don’t mean this film doesn’t make sense in a “you’ll-only-understand-if-you’re-a-big-fan-of-British-humor-and-acting”, I mean this film make no-fucking-sense!
The film essentially is a satire of school life in England. Actor Malcolm McDowell makes his big screen debut in this film as the young rebel student, Mick Travis. McDowell is the only really notable actor in this film and like I said he plays a young rebel in an English school, but he’s not a James Dean-like rebel, he’s the kind of rebel that does crazy things like grow his hair out, and skip out on a rugby game at his school and go to town, and he even has the audacity to question a senior boy at the school; I mean he just so out of control and rebellious that they’re just going to have to lock him up and throw away the key. The film mainly focuses on Mick and his friends at school as they go around creating mischief and disobeying the senior boy’s orders.
One thing I should point out is that this film focuses on a tradition in British schools known as “fagging”, and fagging is sort of like hazing; the senior boys have authority over the first year boys and the first year boys at the school are expected to do whatever the senior boys say. It also puts some focus on the corporal punishment in English schools; one scene shows Mick and his friends being caned by the senior boys for breaking the rules.
Other than that this film is pretty confusing; it digresses away from the story of Mick and his friends to focus on smaller stories. In one case a first-year boy falls in love with an older boy, but there is no explanation as to why this is happening it just shows them staring at each other with longing eyes and bonding together, but we never officially get an explanation on how this all started. Another part shows Mick and a girl working in a diner growling like wild animals at each other, before cutting to them having sex on the floor of the diner; what was the point of this scene you may ask? I have no fucking clue! And I know this film is supposed to be a satire, but some of the “jokes” are a real stretch, like in one scene when the students are practicing for “War games” with blanks and Mick decides to fire live rounds at a canister full of tea. And what is their punishment for firing live rounds of ammunition at their classmates? They have to clean out the basement of the auditorium. That’s fucking stupid! They weren’t caned, they weren’t arrested, they weren’t even expelled they were just ordered to clean out the basement of the auditorium. And to put the icing on the cake what do they find in the basement; automatic machine guns, hand grenades, and rounds and rounds of ammo! What the hell kind of school keeps all this stuff in a basement? In the end Mick and his friends make good use of their little discovery, using the guns and ammo to spread mayhem and destruction throughout their school.
Director Lindsay Anderson said that “If…” was supposed to be a satire of English Public schools, but also a story of a counter culture revolution. Well Mr. Anderson, let me be the one to tell you, you did a really bad job! This film is a real stretch even for a satire. Also, I like how the some parts of the film are in color and other parts of the film are in black and white, but just like the rest of the film there is no signs of significance or an explanation why that the film is shot in two different colors. If you ask me, I think that they ran out of money in their budget for colored film so they resorted to using black and white film and just hoped that people wouldn’t question it.
For all the negative publicity I give this film, I feel I should mention that it did win the Grand Prix award at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. It is a satire, but the satirical jokes are really hit or miss. “If…” also focuses on a lot of British stereotypes, many of them are actually quite accurate as to what we often associate British people to look, sound, and act like. This film is weird, but you know what people you should go and see it, because even if you found “If...” to be as confusing as I did you’ll probably still enjoy it.