A Month in the Country

(A film discussion on Spring in July 1998)



[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]

 
Sofie:
(Evelyn) last time I saw you they were carting you off...shell shocked. 
I was reading a book for school called Trauma and Recovery. It is written primarily for people who are in the mental health field. It has some interesting information about the history of emotional trauma and how society viewed it and treated it during WWI. There was a terrible stigma attached to any emotional symptoms that were debilitating to the soldier. Treatment was cruel and humiliating. The scene where Moon says how hard it is for the "intact ones" like himself and Tom. They are far from intact and will likely suffer some symptoms for the rest of their lives. 

I really liked the hymn that was playing when he goes in to find a table from where he can watch her through the window. I recognized it and racked my brain till I found out what it was. "To a Wild Rose" by I think McDowell?(American) It doesn't necessarily mean anything, except to me. I love when a movie makes me this curious about details. 

Love the scene when he's lying in the sun in the graveyard. She tells him she's been there ten minutes. Doing what exactly? I know what I would be doing. 

Gi:
(Sofie) I was reading a book for school called Trauma and Recovery...It has some interesting information about the history of emotional trauma and how society viewed it and treated it during WWI.
Could you elaborate? 

Karen:
Speaking of music, when Birkin first lays his hands on the wall, a choir of heavenly voices begins to sing. He has not started his restoration work but is instead trying to feel/understand what lies behind the plaster and paint. I was immediately struck by that use of music and wondered if anyone else did. Does it mean he has reached his day of Judgment? 

(Sofie) Love the scene when he's lying in the sun in the graveyard. She tells him she's been there ten minutes. Doing what exactly?
That scene is so lovely and so full of symbolism. CF stretched out on a grave. He looks so happy and peaceful among the dead. Then the angel shows up. He looks up at her and the sun is behind her creating an aura surrounding the halo-shaped hat on her head. But she's hardly an angel. 

One criticism: The scene where Tom is watching the church service from the belfry and sarcastically comments on the Reverent Keach's (and by implication at this point, the entire congregation's) lack of Christian charity I found a little heavy handed. I think you get the idea that the Reverend's words are hollow from their initial meeting and don't need Tom to spell it out. 

Evelyn: Have you figured out what is in Moon's suitcase yet? 

Sofie:
(Gi) Could you elaborate?
The horrors of trench warfare caused men to break down in shocking numbers. Number of psychiatric casualties so great that hospitals had difficulty housing them. Some say 40% of British casualties were due to mental breakdowns. Military authorities suppressed reports because of demoralizing effect on public. British psychologist Charles Myers attributed first cases to physical cause, effects of exploding shells, resulting in nervous disorder "shell shock." Syndrome could be seen in soldiers not exposed to any physical trauma. Gradually military psychiatrists forced to acknowledge trauma due to emotional stress of prolonged exposure to violent death. 

When existence of combat neurosis could no longer be denied, authorities centered on the moral character of the patient. Traditional views held that soldiers should not succumb to terror. The soldier who developed neurotic symptoms was at best seen as inferior human being, at worst a malingerer and coward. Medical writers of this period described these individuals as "moral invalids" and did not deserve to be patients at all. Some military authorities maintained that these men should be court-martialed or dishonorably discharged. 

Lewis Yealland (British psychiatrist of the traditional view) advocated treatment strategy based on shaming, threats, and punishment. Hysterical symptoms such as mutism, sensory loss, or motor paralysis were treated with electric shocks. Yealland reports treating a mute patient by applying electric shocks to his throat. Treatment went on for hours until patient finally spoke. While shocks were applied Yealland exhorted the patient to "remember, you must behave as a hero and have better control over yourself." 

Within a few years after end of war, numerous men with long-lasting psychiatric disabilities became an embarrassment to civilian society eager to forget. 

Judith Herman, M.D. goes into great detail primarily to help clinicians recognize symptoms of trauma so that more accurate diagnosis can be made which will lead to more appropriate treatment. 

I hope this info is helpful. I found it helped me understand Birkin and Moon. They were damaged by war but their wounds were cause for shame not heroism. 

Evelyn:
(Sophie) I love when a movie makes me this curious about details.
Great to have you, Sophie. What a gem you are to come up with all this trauma info. Makes us understand (and love) Tom more. 

OK, the Book: "...good old Bannister-Fletcher, our bible in Miss Witherpen's English Architecture class." (p.16) 

"That rose, Sara Van Fleet...I still have it. Pressed in a book. My Bannister-Fletcher, as a matter of fact. Someday after a sale, a stranger will find it there and wonder why." (p.49) 

The walk in the woods, paradise, the rabbit, the shot: Not in the book. 

The last scene as an old man. Not in the book. The whole book is a flashback 

"Mrs Ellerbeck says you're very attractive...." 

"Attractive!" she said, as though this had never occurred to her or that no-one had told her so before... 

"You are attractive," I said 

"Attractive?" she repeated helplessly.... 

All right, Alice Keach, I thought, you're going to be pushed. You can lie awake in the dark too. "Many men would say you are more than attractive," I said. "They'd say you were beautiful." (I stopped short of `I') 

"...And you?" she said. 

"Me! Well, I'm not an artist, but they gave me a diploma at L.C.A. with a cast-iron guarantee that I could recognize Beauty whenever my eyes fell thereon. So, professionally, I must tell you, 'Yes, you're beautiful. Very.' And could she have made herself go that bit further and given me the nod, I would have recited a catalogue of her charms...because my blood was up." (p.95) [Then Mossop stepped in.] 

This scene reminds me of the visit to Lizzy at Rosings....when he almost....commits himself!! He does repression so well. 

(Bethan) the day he almost declared his love
By the window: 

"She also turned so that her breasts were pressing against me. And, although we both looked outwards across the meadow, she didn't draw away as quite easily she could have done. 

"I should have lifted an arm and taken her shoulder, turned her face and kissed her....Then everything would have been different. My life, hers. We would have had to speak and say aloud what both of us knew and then, maybe, turned from the window and laid down together on my makeshift bed. Afterwards, we would have gone away, maybe on the next train. My heart was racing. I was breathless. She leaned on me, waiting. And I did nothing and said nothing. 

"She drew back and said shakily, 'Well, thank you for showing me [the mural]....Arthur will be wondering what's become of me. No, please don't come down.' "(p.106) 

Karen: Nothing in the book about Moon's suitcase. But after Sophie's research, it must have been medication ...vials? 

Sofie:
(Evelyn) must have been medication...vials
No medication available in those days for psych. problems. People self-medicated with alcohol or whatever. I noticed Moon covering his medal when Tom looks at the open case. He (Moon) is obviously ashamed of the medal given the stigma attached to his emotional breakdown. If he had lost a limb that was a visible disability he would feel more deserving of the medal, but given the bias against any emotional problems during that period he is left in isolation and shame. 

It is interesting how little things have changed. Society seems more accepting of mental illness but there is still a great deal of blaming the victims of traumatic experiences. 

Karen:
"And could she have made herself go that bit further and given me the nod, I would have recited a catalogue of her charms...because my blood was up."
**** 
"She also turned so her breasts were pressing against me. And, although we both looked outwards across the meadow, she didn't draw away as quite easily she could have done. I should have lifted an arm and taken her shoulder, turned her face and kissed her. Then everything would have been different. My life, hers. We would have had to speak and say aloud what both of us knew and then, maybe, turned from the window and laid down together on my makeshift bed."
There is a strange little war going on in his mind. The trained artist who can recognize beauty and just wants to look at it and the man, who wants to possess it. 

(Re: Suitcase/Medals)
He might be embarrassed about the medals for another reason, not just the stigma of an emotional breakdown. There was the incident that Tom hears about in that little village. It sounded as though Moon were being accused of some act of cowardice in addition to his preference for men. Something happened that put his men in jeopardy and most were killed. 

Evelyn:
(Sophie) I noticed Moon covering his medal when Tom looks at the open case. 
Keep this girl around. You're right on the money, Sophie!! 

(About Moon, at Ripon)
"Milburn," he said _ "Sergeant Milburn." I knew him then; he hadn't been a bad chap.... 

Then I mentioned Moon.... 

...the M.P.s found him in bed with his batman..... 

They really shat on him at the Court-Martial. Crucified him. "Corruption of young men"... "Dishonour of the king's commission..." that sort of balls. His M.C. [Military Cross] made it worse. Can't understand that.

"He's never mentioned an M.C." I said. 

"Immediate award. Brought in one of his chaps from the wire. Went back when he heard another screaming....Poor bugger! I suppose he was born that way." 

"Knowing Moon was a homosexual didn't upset me, though of course it wasn't something I could forget. It was the idea of an independent man, a proud spirit, being shut up like an animal in a military prison...that's what appalled me. (pp.90-1) 

Then later at the pub_in the film_Moon says the last six months were the worst when he didn't see any corpses. 

Tom: "You got the M.C., didn't you. I saw it in the tent"!! 

So Moon was court-martialed and spent the last six months of the war in the "glasshouse" as Milburn says. Like Sofie says he is ashamed of the medal probably because of the court-martial. (I think in the US anyone court-martialed is stripped of his medals.) 

I also rescind my perception that Rev. Keach is impotent. Can't find any reference to assume that. 

CF portrays Tom perfectly. Natasha Richardson plays her a bit more of a temptress. (Or perhaps that is how Pat O'Connor (CofF), the director saw her.) 

The apples symbolism in the book are not as graphic as in the film. No fondling, etc. Though I am sure "the Eve factor" is what they are supposed to represent. 

I really prefer the film. (Of course, CF is in it!) And I admire the director for getting a 2 hour film out of a 110 page book!! 

Bethan:
Hope you haven't slashed your wrists Evelyn! Some very interesting insights here. I wish I'd read the book. 

I love watching this film, and think that virtually all the scenes have some intrinsic value. I'm always moved by the scene in the woods when Birkin reacts to the gun shot, also by his reaction after seeing the dying child, when he himself also seems terribly ill. And I think that CF acts very well with the children...they treat him as one of themselves. and he treats them as equals. 

Heide:
(Karen) when Birkin first lays his hands on the wall, a choir of heavenly voices begins to sing.... is instead trying to feel/understand what lies behind the plaster and paint. I was immediately struck by that use of music
LOL! I was immediately struck by his beautiful hands in that shot. You know, those long fingers. 

(Sofie) I found it helped me understand Birkin and Moon. They were damaged by war but their wounds were cause for shame not heroism.
A stigma still existent today. Evelyn, perhaps you can tell us from the book whether Tom was able to finish out the war. We know Moon spent the last 6 months in "the glasshouse." 

(Book) "And could she have made herself go that bit further and given me the nod, I would have recited a catalog of her charms, because my blood was up."
Aha! This is the scene (in the woods) where I thought he would kiss her but for the shot. Sounds likely now. 

"I should have lifted an arm and taken her shoulder, turned her face and kissed her. Then everything would have been different. My life, hers."
Sound familiar, Cheryl? You asked what could he offer her. Sounds like he is very aware of that. 

(Evelyn) I also rescind my perception that Rev. Keach is impotent.
Oh but it was a good perception. Surely his sexuality is not mentioned at all in the book. Or do we get some steamy love scenes between the Reverend and his Mrs.? 

Only 110 pages!!! What a disappointment. 

Evelyn:
"Summertime! And summertime in my early twenties! And in love! No, better than that_secretly in love, coddling it up in myself. It's an odd feeling coming rarely more than once in most of our lifetimes. In books, as often as not, they represent it as a sort of anguish but wasn't so for me. Later perhaps, but not then. 

"I was married. Vinny had gone off with him but neither of us had done much about it. She'd shrewdly left the door open so that, if need be, she could slip back_before she went again. And Alice Keach. I was sure that she was a deeply religious woman: marriage for her really did mean `Let no man put asunder.' Never forget this was 1920, another world. 

"So there it was and there it would stay until the day I would go. Then, for a year or two, perhaps we'd exchange a polite Christmas card and, after that, we'd draw farther away. But now she was here and, unknowing, mine. Well, that's how I liked to think of it." (pp.92-3) 

Interesting line, end of first paragraph: "Later perhaps, but not then." Does he repent not having made the overture to Alice? What does everyone think? Was it his innate morality that made him hold back? (He was not a religious man.) 

No sex between the Reverend and Alice. 

I assume he was in the war until he was carted away shell shocked. 

Cheryl:
Sofie, I also like that book. The main thing I've appreciated as I've gotten older was how shocked the participants were at "the Great War." As is often said, no one was prepared for the extent of the violence. The armament and the planes delivered more destruction than ever before, but the soldiers were still as close to the damage as when wars were fought on horses. In WWII we (humans) had the experience of the first modern war (WWI) to learn from somewhat, but for soldiers in WWI there was no preparation, nothing to compare it to. We could now deliver many shells more quickly, so there was geometrically more horror to process (modern world for you.) 

Evelyn, from the quotes so far, I don't think I'm going to like the book's Birkin as much either :-) 

Karen: 
The technology of destruction has always outpaced man's ability to deal with it on the battlefield and afterward. The closest thing to WWI in terms of impact would be our Civil War for the numbers of dead, wounded and psychologically scarred veterans. 

The "shock" of participants at the Great War also stemmed from Britain's threatened position as a world power, France's rapid demise, etc. The ability of upstart Germany to overrun Europe was the kicker and was horribly dealt with in the Treaty of Versailles (but of course that's with 20-20 hindsight). 

Evelyn:
Karen, I think that his outburst at Rev. Keach who is delivering a sermon on The Beatitudes...."what about me..did you feed me..give me a bed." And later when after going to visit Emily he shouts: "There is not God" all occur near the beginning of the film/book when he is still agitated, stammering, twitching, still feeling the negative effects of his head trauma. Later, he seems calmer, more rational. 

Don't you love the ending? He takes the apple she gave him, looks at it tenderly seems to grasp it firmer, and then bites into it lustily. 

After doing Tom Birkin, I bet he could do Joe Prince in an afternoon! 

This film is held in v. high esteem...even among Kenneth Branagh fans. 

I'll give you another scene that was not in the film...after the scene in the belfry: 

"Then, towards evening, I pulled myself together and thought, 'Well usually there's a second chance for most of us; perhaps she's waiting there as I'm waiting here.' [He goes to the house, stood breathless, as if he had been running, but found the house empty.] 

'They're not here', I thought, 'they've gone.' And I turned away. 

Then I remembered the bell....And I pulled at it...so that the bell's sounds came hurrying along corridors, round corners, down staircases, echoing and re-echoing, spreading through the dark and empty house like ripples of her laughter. But now I knew that it was laughter calling to me from the past_clearly, playfully, yet poignantly sad. It was the worst moment of my life. 

And I dragged at the wire again and again, savagely, despairingly. For how long I cannot say, but when, at last, I turned away and went, I knew I should never see her again." (pp.108-9) 

Karen:
(Evelyn) the missing belfry scene
That was so poignant. He has kept himself in check throughout and now is sitting there ringing a bell, hoping that she will return to him. Ringing the bell is almost like shouting it from the rooftops. He's declaring his love or whatever for her. But there's no one to hear it. Incredibly sad. 


 
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