A Month in the Country

(A film discussion on Spring in July 1998)



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Evelyn:
"All this happened so long ago. And I never returned, never wrote, never met anyone who might have given me news of Oxgodby. So, in memory, it stays as I left it, a sealed room furnished by the past, airless, still, ink long dry on a put-down pen. 

But this was something I knew nothing of as I lifted the loop and set off across the meadow. 

Stocken, Preseigne 

September, 1978" (p.111) 

This is the end of the book. But this locale doesn't sound like England. Does anyone know where it is? 

Sofie:
(Evelyn) But this is something I knew nothing of as I lifted the loop and set off across the meadow. 
Is he looking back with regret? or is he just remembering a notable time in his life? 

Evelyn:
(Book) But this is something I knew nothing of as I lifted the loop and set off across the meadow. 
(Sofie) Is he looking back with regret? or is he just remembering a notable time in his life?
The latter. The whole book is a flashback. So he is remembering when he left with all his various pieces of luggage and walked away. 

I read the Cinematic Discourse on FOF on AMITC and it is v. scholarly. However, there seems to be a difference of opinion on whether Piers is the mural's artist. 

After Tom and Moon dig in the pit, find the stone coffin and shroud, and peak in, Moon says: "Then we'll put the chain back and leave him....But first we'll climb your ladder and have a look at his face before it fell off." (p.104) 

Tom says: "Do you know, until that moment, it hadn't occurred to me that this bundle of bones was my falling man." (p.104) 

Doesn't Tom say earlier that the artist had fallen and someone else had painted his face in? 

This author is pretty tricky...makes you work for the plot. 

Laura:
Tom says most likely that the apprentice finished the mural. 

Sofie:
I really enjoyed everyone's take on AMITC. Loved the scenes from the book which helped me to understand the characters further. 

CF does seem to give Tom this quality that makes you want to "make it all better." When he enters the belfry for the first time I just want to help him take off those damp clothes make him a cup of hot tea and tuck him in. Of course I'm speaking of my desire to nurture his poor wounded soul. I would go to any lengths to divert him from his painful memories of the war. 

Question to those who read the book. What was the purpose of Moon being a homosexual? 

Cheryl: 
(Nan) Dontcha just wanna kiss it and make it all better?
(Sofie)...you want to "make it all better."...help him take off those damp clothes...tuck him in...my desire......any lengths to...him
And the weird thing is, you think (I think) (one thinks) you really can! With some screen stammerers (like Brad Dourif in "Cuckoo's Nest"), you get the idea that it's hard wired, that it's been with them forever, it's a part of them. But with CF's you think you can soothe it, the tension, the conflict_right on the money. And like Heide, I didn't really get the first time through that it was from the war. Maybe the book made this clearer. 

Evelyn:
(Sofie) What was the purpose of Moon being a homosexual?
I didn't find anything explicit in the book. (But what is in this book!) 

Moon's psychological injuries, IMO are worse than Tom's. Also he had shrapnel in his leg which is why one saw him late at night trying to straighten it out. 

Does anyone have an insight on Moon's homosexuality and it's place in the story. 

Tom's physical twitches and stammer subside. And while he leaves sadly, still one gets the feeling that he isn't the lonely pitiful person who arrived in the beginning of the summer. 

So, a question to ponder: 

What heals Tom? Restoring the mural? Alice? The children? The pastoral countryside? Friendship? Love? Art? Do you think that as he restored the mural it became a metaphor for his own healing or is the mural a venue through which he healed? 

Ann:
(Sofie) Moon's homosexuality?
Perhaps his name gives us a clue. Moon_crescent_Muslim. I think the name is meant to draw a parallel between Moon and the Muslim Piers. Where Piers returned from the Crusades a converted Muslim, and became an outcast in his Oxgodby_and permanently remained one, Moon is also a permanent outcast in his society because of his homosexuality. Neither could convert to a more socially acceptable way of life. 

Perhaps this is also why Moon remains more damaged by the war and doesn't find the cure that Birkin does. Birkin could `convert' himself back, but Moon, like Piers, must accept the way he is. 

Evelyn:
Ann, I find your connection of Moon_crescent_Muslim/Piers, both outcasts of society, very plausible. The puzzle coming together slowly. 

I did some research over the weekend. At the end Old Mr. Birkin (I figured he must have been 85 yrs old when he returns in the film) signs off Stocken, Prestigne September, 1978. The place didn't sound like England, but I found it in E. Wales near the border, North of Hereford. Ripon (where they went to purchase the organ, Alice apples, Sgt Milburn tells about Moon) is in the middle of the moors NW of York. 

Then I found on the map a town, at the tip of England almost touching N. Wales, called Birkenhead. Coincidental, I wonder? 

Karen: 
(Evelyn) However, there seems to be a difference of opinion on whether Piers is the mural's artist.
Finished the book and my take on it is that Piers and the muralist are not one and the same. Tom is marveling throughout on the level of detail the muralist has used, especially on the falling man with the crescent on his forehead. He considers this unknown artist to be decades ahead of Brueghel because of the detail used. Tom does believe that real people were used to populate the mural. So it stands to reason that the artist chose to use Piers, a Muslin convert, who had recently been discovered and excommunicated as the model for that character. 

(Evelyn) Doesn't Tom say earlier that the artist had fallen...and someone else had painted his face in?
Tom concludes that the artist fell from the scaffold but it was other areas of the mural that were done by his apprentices_not the falling man. 

(Evelyn) What heals Tom?
Have concluded that it was Oxgodby because it brought together everything that he needed to return to the living. In Oxgodby, he finds what may be the greatest medieval mural of them all and he rediscovers Art and his own abilities not as just someone who cleans up after artists. In Oxgodby, he meets Alice and he rediscovers Beauty and Love. In Oxgodby, he meets Moon, with whom he can face the horrors of the war with someone with shared memories. In Oxgodby, he meets the Ellerbecks, primarily Kathy, who befriend him and show him the other side of religion, not the establishment sort, that didn't comfort him in the foxholes when he called out to that God. 

Kathy Ellerbeck is a little more. She's a little Tom. Perhaps, that's why he calls her his "kindred spirit." "We understood each other perfectly from the moment she flung open the door." (p.28) 

(Ann) Moon is also a permanent outcast in his society because of his homosexuality. Neither could convert to a more socially acceptable way of life.
I think the movie and the book deal with Moon's homosexuality differently. I need to go rewatch that part in the cafe in Ripon where Tom hears about Moon, but the impression I got was that Sergeant Milburn was totally disgusted with Moon. In the book, he is sympathetic to what happened to Moon. He laughs and expresses thoughts that perhaps the powers that be made an example of Moon. 

"Crucified him. 'Corruption of young men'...Dishonour of the king's commission....' that sort of balls. His M.C. made it worse. Can't understand that." (p.91) 

I think Moon's crime was that he was found out. Homosexuality was always around, but was not supposed to be in the open. Like AC or Wilde or a zillion other films. 

Evelyn:
(Karen) Tom concludes that the artist fell from the scaffold but it was other areas of the mural that were done by his apprentices...not the falling man.
Thanks Karen for clearing up the mystery. Your insight makes more sense. Surely, a Muslim would not have painted a religious mural. 

And Oxgodby with all its "ingredients" is a logical healing agent for his condition. 

Anybody else have any different takes on this? 

Sofie:
I came to the conclusion that Oxgodby was more than just a nice place to visit. It was as if the whole town was a metaphor for what people need in order to heal from the experience of war. He was not only restoring himself with the mural, he was uncovering a mystery. The mystery itself might be symbolic. 

Karen:
(Sofie) It was as if the whole town was a metaphor for what people need in order to heal from the experience of war.
Very nicely put. I'd forgotten to include the little girl who died. Birkin came face to face with a death more senseless than those resulting from war. The death of an innocent child. I think this put his own experience back into perspective. 

(Sofie) He was not only restoring himself with the mural, he was uncovering a mystery. The mystery itself might be symbolic.
What do you mean by *mystery*? About the muralist? Would like to hear how you see it as being symbolic. 

Evelyn:
Sofie, by the "mystery" of the mural do you mean the fact that it had laid uncovered for so many centuries? 

Sofie:
(Karen) *mystery*
Tom arrives in Oxgodby a hurt and bitter man. It's dark and raining and his reception by Keach is cold. When he watches Keach's sermon he speaks of Christ wanting some answers. I think he is speaking for himself. The mural becomes symbolic of the answers he seeks. He turns and sees Alice and in the next seen he is uncovering an angel. He has made assumptions about the town's people as being a smug Yorkshire lot. His experience has made him view mankind as lacking in goodness and charity. 

After uncovering the angel, the children arrive bringing companionship and music. Their unjaded view of the world is expressed in genuine interest for what he is doing, which contrasts his view of simply being a laborer. 

When he first meets Alice he describes the mural as being a puzzle. It comes together slowly if it comes together at all. Alice describes it as being like opening a parcel at Christmas which is in direct opposition of his own pessimistic view. It is as if she seduces him back to life as he lies among the dead. 

Keach is the antithesis of what Tom wants to be, yet it is as if he is holding a mirror up showing him what can happen if he shuts himself off to life and love. It is also Keach who minimizes the importance of restoring the mural as it will "distract." From his own self importance maybe and the emptiness his life has become because of it. 

Although Tom leaves the town without expressing his love and desire toward Alice, he is able to bite into the apple she has given him and seems to relish it without bitterness. He has solved the mystery as to who he is. He can feel love and desire while remaining moral and forgiving. 

Karen:
Sofie, love your interpretation of the mystery of the mural, but I think I prefer to look at Tom's experience in Oxgodby as the putting together of a broken jigsaw puzzle. He is more a broken man I think rather than someone who doesn't know who he is. 

(Sofie) Keach is the antithesis of what Tom wants to be, yet it is as if he is holding a mirror up showing him what can happen if he shuts himself off to life and love. 
In their final scene together, when he is paying Tom, Keach turns around and says (kind of): "I know what you think of me..." Keach is saying to Tom that he is a *realist* He reminded me of the character played by Edward Fox in The Choir. Someone has to attend to the business of the Church. 

I rewatched the movie last night and it was even *better* after reading the book. You can see and understand more of what people are saying and little things that go on. For example, on the train at the very beginning, he bumps into someone in the aisle. You can make out an "excuse me" said very sarcastically. This goes so perfectly with the sarcasm and cynicism that fairly flies off the pages from paragraph one. 

Oh, yes, the Sgt. Milburne meeting in Ripon is totally different. In the book, he is sympathetic to Moon's plight and that he got the shaft, whereas in the movie he is bitter and the sentiment expressed is resentful that the other captains suffered while Moon got to sit out the remainder of the war in the glasshouse. 

Evelyn:
(Karen) He is more a broken man I think rather than someone who doesn't know who he is. 
Karen, do you think at the end Tom is still a broken, lonely man? 

I tend to agree with whomever said that Oxgodby and the mural, as a conduit, helped to heal him. 

Great insight into his persona, Sofie. 

Karen:
(Evelyn) Karen, do you think at the end Tom is still a broken, lonely man?
Oh, no, he leaves Oxgodby sans stammer and twitches. He is on the mend. When he returns, he is just looking back on the miraculous place and time he spent in the country. He is marveling at how such a place (the church and mural, the children, Alice via the book & rose) saved him. 

Bethan:
(Karen) When he returns
I don't think he's just looking back. I find almost unbearable pathos in this scene. The old man's eyes are so sad. I always interpreted this scene to mean that he never again found true love (what sort of future would he have had with Vinny?) and that he carried the book and the pressed rose to remind him of the feelings he had for Mrs Keach and also the times when he came so close to declaring them. He briefly found happiness_ and remembering the children only intensifies this feeling of loss. 

Or am I being too fanciful? What sort of interpretation does the book give? Was this Tom's only experience of love? 

Evelyn:
(Bethan) What sort of interpretation does the book give? 
The book does not have Tom as an old man returning to Oxgodby. Or biting into the apple, for that matter. He says: "And I never returned, never wrote, never met anyone who might have given me news of Oxgodby." (p.111) 

Before that he says: "We can ask and ask but we can't have again what once seemed ours for ever_the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, a loved face. They've gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass." (p.111) 

Could also be recapturing youth. Have you ever done that? Returned to a place that has happy memories that can never be duplicated again...that could never go on forever. 

This is one tricky author....lots of interpretations. 

And Vinny, I hope that nymphomaniac wasn't around long! 

Karen:
(Bethan) I don't think he's just looking back. I find almost unbearable pathos in this scene. The old man's eyes are so sad.
Oh dear, I thought I saw a little twinkle in his eyes. Was that a tear? I must go back and check this out. 

He may not have worked things out with Vinny (the little tramp), but that summer in Oxgodby gave him enough to make it through life and into old manhood. ;-) 


 
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