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14 April 2008 @ 04:10 pm
"He came highly recommended." "So did Anne of Cleves."  
I've been offline the last few days due to the wonderful intrusion of real life--some friends of mine from college came to visit, and much fun was had by all.

I've missed all the Doctor Who posts, and I haven't seen the episode anyway, but I bring thoughts on The History Boys to make up for it, as my friends and I watched it over the weekend.

1. The first time I saw this movie, almost all of my love was reserved for Samuel Barnett as Posner, in a way that was frankly a bit weird because he seemed so young. (He is totally in his twenties in real life, so no worries.) This time I have no less love for Posner, but now I also really love Jamie Parker as Scripps. Such are the perils of watching movies with articulate British boys in them.

2. That said, I have a lot of sympathy for Rudge, the boy who's a bit slower than all the rest of the boys, who doesn't have that effortless brilliance. (Doctor Who alert: Russell Tovey, who plays Rudge, is the midshipman in the most recent Christmas special, "Voyage of the Damned.")

3. Slightly more substantive version of the shallowness of point 1: why I like Scripps so much. Part of it is, as you'd probably expect, because of the closeness of his relationship to Posner--he's the only one Posner really talks to--but that's as appealing as it is because Scripps just comes off as so sane and *balanced*. He's not, despite being the most overtly religious member of the group, judgmental of either Posner or Dakin; he's generous and humane in a way that the other boys aren't, even Posner (who's vulnerable and sensitive but solipsistic, too, in a way that isn't necessarily unexpected for a teenage boy). Scripps gives the impression that he's able to look outside himself. Maybe it's because he does seem to have a stronger sense of self than the other boys, particularly the other "major" boys, Posner and Dakin. He doesn't seem to define himself in terms of other people, the way Posner defines himself by his relation to Dakin, or Dakin does by what Irwin thinks of him. It makes sense that Scripps is mildly disgusted by the way Dakin's and Posner's handwriting has even started to look like Irwin's (or more accurately, as Posner comments in that oddly earnest yet matter-of-fact yet smart-alecky way he has, Dakin is writing like Irwin, and Posner is writing like Dakin), because he never falls for Irwin's flashy, deliberately antagonistic way of looking at history; he's the main holdout for truth as an important value ("You keep saying 'good point.' Not 'good point,' sir--true!"), while most of the other boys get swayed by it, or at least practice it even if they don't believe in it--which is possibly a greater outrage of the truth, actually. (While Posner is on the same side as Scripps in the Holocaust argument, he comes at it from a more personal point of view, and even he writes an essay that was, in his words, "so nice about Hitler.")

Without being at all obtrusive about it, Scripps is just wholly, unembarrassedly himself--even when Dakin is asking him probing questions about his religious beliefs and what that entails--and that's lovely to watch. I could hazard a hypothesis that that's why he and Posner do seem to get along so well--Posner, who practically vibrates with the emotions he feels, so easy to read, could use that kind of stability to bounce off of--but it's also a function of the fact that they spend so much time on screen together. When Posner performs in the classroom, it's always with Scripps on piano, and when Posner does one of the "endings," it's also with Scripps. It wouldn't have worked nearly as well with Lockwood or Timms, the other boys we see doing an ending, because they're both totally campy and broad about the way they play the scene from an old movie, but Posner, while not wholly serious, still plays the ending with a hint of investment, a hint of fragility, and Scripps does the same, but with a hint of...protectiveness, if that's the right word. And they have enough of a rapport that this scene they act out actually categorizes their relationship in some odd, tangential way.

4. Posner's reward, or lack thereof. When I saw the film for the first time, I wasn't crazy about the ending that he gets. While it seems right to me that Posner, the one who "took everything to heart," should have become a teacher, I wanted him to have a happier ending, because I loved him so much--not just an ending about which he could say, "I'm not happy...but I'm not unhappy about it." So when I listened to the commentary on the DVD, I was surprised to discover that in fact, they'd made Posner's ending happier than in the play, for various reasons. And apparently there are flash-forwards in the play that prepare us for Posner's breakdown? (That's all they said on the commentary--I may go read the play at some point, but perhaps someone's who's seen it can enlighten me on this point?) I don't know, maybe something in those flashes would have given me enough information to believe this--but I just can't believe it of Posner, and not just because I love him. There's a...resiliency about Posner, I think, even given his sensitivity and expressiveness, the way he's able to be so fragile in the Brief Encounter ending or so poignant in his recitation of the Hardy poem. And I think that the roots of that resiliency are to be found in his irony, his ability to be ironic about his feelings even while feeling them deeply. Perhaps this is an unintended consequence of Samuel Barnett's performance rather than anything in the script, but I can't see how someone who can manage the detachment to be even a little wry or droll about his circumstances--who can manage that slight but necessary distance for irony--can be so overwhelmed by those circumstances as to be broken by them. His irony protects him, I think, from the negative possibilities that come along with that dreamy sensitivity he has. And so it doesn't seem to me like it matches up. It's a bit like Neil (is that his name?--Robert Sean Leonard's character) in Dead Poets' Society. There's really nothing about that cheerful, confident, buoyant boy that suggests he would commit suicide because his father told him he couldn't be in a play--and quite a bit to suggest that he'd probably just join the drama club when he went away to college and just lie about it on vacations home. I've always felt that the ending they wanted was at odds with the character they'd presented, and though I don't know all the details, I can't help feeling that way about Posner as well, at least the version I saw onscreen.

It might be different if I felt that Posner's irony about himself was a screen for turmoil we don't see--but he just seems so *honest* about who he is, everything that he is! He's not hiding. And in fact, the daring of his behavior with Dakin seems almost too self-knowing, too integrated, for a breakdown to happen. He sings "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" right *at* Dakin--and there's a challenge, a directness, in his eyes, not wistfulness. Same with the French lesson, when he challenges Dakin to take off his trousers, or that final scene between them when he won't stand for Dakin's weak version of "Posner's Reward," puts the moment on his terms instead of letting Dakin manipulate him as Dakin has just finished manipulating both Irwin and the headmaster. What I loved about Posner the first time I saw the film, and still do, was that there's steel mixed in with his delicateness; I just feel that the boy who can discomfit Dakin by being so forward and unapologetic about his feelings, who can stand up for himself when everyone around him is assuring him that his feelings will pass ("Maybe I don't want it to pass!"), who can toss off lines about being a Jewish monk or hotly defend the horror of the Holocaust against his classmates who want to make it just another event, is going to be just fine. I can't reconcile all that in my head with the idea of a breakdown. Though maybe that just means they did a really good job on the rewrite.

ETA: Possibly my favorite scene. Oh, Samuel Barnett.
Current Mood: pensivelongwinded
La Reine Noire: Studious Veronicalareinenoire on April 14th, 2008 11:11 pm (UTC)
I adore Posner for all the reasons you mentioned, and it hurts to think he does end up having a breakdown in the play -- I haven't read it, though I mean to do so at some point. I know I plan to buy the film on DVD at some point; it may even have surpassed Dead Poets' Society in my 'inspirational films that turned me into a humanities grad student' category.

And really good point about Scripps as well. I remember really appreciating how down-to-earth he is.
tempestsarekind: viola readingtempestsarekind on April 15th, 2008 03:46 am (UTC)
and it hurts to think he does end up having a breakdown in the play

This is exactly how I felt. In fact, I think that's why I wrote so much about it--I wasn't quite sure that I wasn't just reacting out of my love for the character!

I'd been thinking about reading the play...it's probably better that I'm prepared for the differences, actually, but I may wait a while longer to do so.

And the movie *is* one of those inspirational films, isn't it? Strange, when so much of it is about the way teaching has the possibility to corrupt as well, but just watching the characters engage with what history really means, different ways of conceptualizing it, is really exciting and, well, inspirational.
La Reine Noire: Studious Veronicalareinenoire on April 15th, 2008 11:11 am (UTC)
Strange, when so much of it is about the way teaching has the possibility to corrupt as well, but just watching the characters engage with what history really means, different ways of conceptualizing it, is really exciting and, well, inspirational.

I think part of what I like about it is that it's not obviously inspirational -- which, much as I love it, Dead Poets' Society is. Alan Bennett is well aware of how easily history can be turned against people, and I think part of the message of the film is how to navigate that conceptual minefield as it were. Plus, it's just so entertaining.
tempestsarekind: princess elizabethtempestsarekind on April 15th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
Yes--Dead Poets' Society is very much about that "one good teacher" inspirational ideal, and The History Boys is more conflicted about the pull teachers can exert, and how particular ways of thinking about history can become irresponsible in the wrong hands. No teacher in THB is wholly perfect--which gives lots of scope for thought.

And there's singing, too!
La Reine Noire: Studious Veronicalareinenoire on April 15th, 2008 04:13 pm (UTC)
The singing is wonderful. As are the recited film scenes. I loved that the first one was Brief Encounter and the Rach 2 was playing in the background just as it was in the film.
tempestsarekind: all the world's a stagetempestsarekind on April 15th, 2008 06:34 pm (UTC)
Yes--and I love the fact that Scripps is just casually accompanying these scenes on piano. It's such a random skill for him to possess, but somehow it fits, too.
(Anonymous) on April 15th, 2008 07:17 am (UTC)
Having missed the play with the original brilliant cast and come to THB through the film I far prefer the Posner "story" in the film in the same way that what happens to Lockwood in the film ending is really poignant and always chokes me when I see that bit. It has a more dramatic quality in that it's the sort of awful thing that would happen to a boy like that who's gone into the army yet it's kind of unexpected in the story, whereas the play Posner just seems "piling on the agony" and unlikely given his strength of character that you've identified.
tempestsarekind: quite a good arm actuallytempestsarekind on April 15th, 2008 08:09 am (UTC)
Yes, I do just have the feeling that Posner's just a bit too strong--it's not that it's *impossible* to imagine, but it requires an effort for me to see it.

And the bit with Lockwood at the end breaks my heart a bit. I think it's in the way he refuses to meet Mrs. Lintott's eyes, as though that kind of human connection is forbidden, even in such an unreal scene.