Monday, April 15, 2019

Trevor Lynch's Review of FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD(1967) Ignites Richard Spencer vs Greg Johnson Pt II

The review by Trevor Lynch(Greg Johnson?) is useful as social commentary, sexual politics, and moral judgement, but it mostly overlooks the most important facet of Art. The element of psychology. The best works of art are more about empathy(not to be confused with blind sympathy) and understanding. So, we can believe the characters are acting foolishly or even evil and recognize the ridiculousness of motivations and actions(and the foolishness or injustice of the community as a whole), but art delivers something more than a sermon, lecture, analysis, or diagnosis. Rather, it allows us to empathize and see/feel through the characters and identify with them on some level EVEN IF we disagree with them or loathe them. Oliver Stone has been an uneven director and brazen ideologue, but some of his films can be appreciated as art because his objective was to penetrate and understand. Stone, no fan of Tricky Dick, made a thoughtful political film with NIXON, something he utterly failed with the breathless propagandizing of JFK.

Lynch's Counter-Currents movie reviews too often read like right-wing versions of Proggy treatment of culture. If the 'left' hailed the New STAR WARS because it's Diverse and Multi-Culti(even though it is dreadful), Lynch praised JURASSIC WORLD because it is ostensibly a 'white' movie(even though it too is dreadful by any aesthetic or emotional standard). If progs too often reduce plays, novels, and movies into simple morality tales of heroes & villains and oppressors & victims, a similar ideological pall hangs over Lynch's review of MADDING CROWD. There is too much judgmentalism without any effort to understand the characters(even though I agree with much of Lynch's moral concerns and prescriptions). Now, I'm not opposed to judgement and personal disapproval in arts/culture criticism AS LONG AS there is an effort to understand the why of the characters and situations(and the artist's intentions). Take films like Martin Scorsese's MEAN STREETS and GOODFELLAS, and most of the characters range from childish to vile & disgusting. But it would be too easy to dismiss and condemn the characters for being a bunch of 'goombas'. They are great films because they place us in that cultural-historical milieu and show why people behave as they do in it.

Lynch's review is most lacking in the treatment of Sergeant Troy(Terence Stamp). One almost gets the sense that Lynch's diatribe against Troy is Greg Johnson vs Richard Spencer II by fictional proxy. Yes, Troy is a something of a cad(at times anyway), but he is also something more, and human psychology being what it is, it is totally understandable why Bathsheba is drawn to him(and why William Boldwood[Peter Finch] and Gabriel Oak[Alan Bates] are drawn to Bathsheba in what seems like fatal attractions). Before judgement, the critic should try to empathize and understand. Of course, this applies to works of art, not propaganda. Though I'm not keen on watching homo characters(esp in multi-culti situations), a work of art can make their lives interesting. MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE is a genuine work of art. And C.R.A.Z.Y is one of the most deeply felt movies about the pangs of growing up and problems of family life. Such works deserve empathy on our part even if we may not care for homo characters or situations. On the other hand, a movie like PHILADELPHIA that features simple saints and devils doesn't deserve any such effort or respect on our part. It is stupid propaganda. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, like Terrence Malick's DAYS OF HEAVEN, is a work with characters of some depth and complexity. Reducing the story to a morality tale doesn't do it justice.

Granted, one of the problems is John Schlesinger pulled his punches in making the film. It doesn't have the auteurist stamp of DAYS OF HEAVEN or Roman Polanski's superb adaptation of TESS. Schlesinger did a very good job as professional and craftsman, but there isn't much of the director-as-author in the adaptation. Stanley Kubrick's BARRY LYNDON and Polanski's TESS are like universes unto themselves, the products of visionary power. We not only sense the keen eye but the keener intelligence, an invisible omnipotence that holds it all together. In contrast, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is all eyes, rather like Ang Lee's very professional version of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. Impeccably done but mostly an exterior than interior work. We see a world than enter a universe.
TESS unfolds like a dream. We don't merely witness obsessions verging on madness in the characters but sense them as mood and texture in every square inch of the frame. A genius at his best, Polanski had the keenness to pore through the hearts and minds of characters(though often for perverted purposes) and to infuse the entire setting with unloosed spirits. In works of 'horror' like REPULSION and THE TENANT, he blatantly subverted the wall between subjectivity and objectivity, but even in more realistic films like CHINATOWN and TESS, the unease owes to the sense that 'exteriority' is inseparable from 'interiority'. At the ending of CHINATOWN, we don't merely notice that there is corruption in L.A. Rather, we sense it in the very air that people breathe. It is pervasive, everywhere, and inescapable. It's like being in a funeral where everyone breathes the fumes emanating from the dead. TESS is remarkable for being saturated with an air of poignancy. If romantic tragedy could be a perfume, Tess was it and filled the air.
Polanski knew how to get under the skin, which is why his version of MACBETH is one of the best Shakespeare adaptations. There are moments in the film when Macbeth's psychology becomes ours. We become hypnotized and spellbound by the same madness. And TESS has the power of mood and aura. It's like a house of hearts.
This element is missing from Schlesinger's MADDING CROWD, and part of the reason could have been the novel's intimidating stature as literary classic, one that dampened creative freedom by commanding faith and reverence. It's often been said that inferior novels make for better adaptations because film-makers feel free to do as they wish, whereas classics come with towering reputations that tend to overshadow film-makers' confidence.

Now, there are advantages to 'impersonal' professionalism or cinema-of-quality as well. Auteurism is a double-edged sword. In the hands of a master like Kubrick, Kurosawa, Welles, or Polanski, the source material can be transformed into something remarkable, at once true to the spirit of the source and inspired in ways beyond the scope of the original. Ridley Scott's version of BLADE RUNNER, in certain respects, goes beyond Philip K. Dick's novel. And Schlesinger, as auteur, did likewise with his adaptation of MIDNIGHT COWBOY, an excellent novel in its own right.
But, the downside of auteurism is, more often than not, untalented hacks think the mere application of their 'personal' eccentricities will enhance the material. Terry Gilliam is maybe the worst offender, but there are others. MASTERPIECE THEATER, like old Hollywood, has its strengths and limitations. Because it emphasized professionalism, it could be relied on for decent first-rate productions. Its rules hampered artistic personality but also suppressed self-indulgence. More often than not, freedom in cinema has meant freedom to be stupid than genius because stupidity is far more common than genius, which cannot be faked.

A young shepherd, Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates at his handsomest), proposes marriage to Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie at her loveliest)... They would make a handsome couple. Gabriel is clearly intelligent, hard-working, and responsible. He pleads his case well. But Bathsheba declines, because she does not “love” him, and to her mind, it is as simple as that. One has to wonder, though, what exactly she means by love, and why it features so prominently in her decision, since rural farm folk tend to be very pragmatic about such matches.

In describing Bates as 'at his handsomest' and Christie 'at her loveliest', Lynch answers his own question. Sure, on the socio-economic level, these are rural farming folks who need to be pragmatic in work and business, but beauty has its own logic. In a way, Gabriel Oak is just as deluded and dreamy as Bathsheba. If he's so pragmatic and responsible, or rooted in the real world, why doesn't he find some nice rural woman and settle down with her? Why does he stick around Bathsheba's manor even though she can be insulting and impetuous? Because he is madly in love with her even though he is careful and hard-nosed enough not to show it. In Bathsheba, he wasn't just looking for a good match, a good farm wife. Surely, he could have found one of those as he is reasonably handsome and capable. But his mind is set on Bathsheba and no one but her. Indeed, it seems even his dream of raising sheep and becoming rich was to win Bathsheba's heart. Outwardly, he is a hardworking and responsible character, but in some ways, his devotion to Bathsheba betrays a mad love that is no less mad than the passion of others in the story.
Also, there is a hierarchy to beauty. While Alan Bates is reasonably handsome, he isn't beautiful. In contrast, Bathsheba is. Just like University of Michigan, though good, isn't Yale or Princeton, the fact is Gabriel Oak isn't on Bathsheba's level.
There is also the element of class. Bathsheba, as inheritor, is a woman of property whereas Oak isn't. Later, we meet William Boldwood who is a man of property, but he's aged and less attractive. Thus, neither is a dream match for Bathsheba. She is a flower in bloom. Oak, like his name, is a tree, but one that nevertheless longs to protect the flower from rain and wind.

Anyway, it misses the point to be sour with Bathsheba because she doesn't make a sensible choice. Furthermore, if she had acted sensibly, there wouldn't be much of a conflict and story as means to tease out the tangled threads of the heart and mind.

Soon Bathsheba moves away, and Gabriel tries to put her out of his mind. But when Gabriel’s flock is killed in a ghastly accident, he is forced to up stakes and seek employment on another man’s farm.

The dog that ran off the leash and drove the sheep over the cliff anticipates Troy's impact on the lives of villagers, and yet can we really blame the dog? A dog's true nature is that of the wolf, a warrior-beast. One part of the dog wants to obey & serve the master, but another part of the dog wants to be its own master and run wild-and-free. It want to be a wolf again. It's understandable why Oak shoots the dog, but we can also understand why the dog acted as it did.
And this applies to Troy as well. In some ways, he is a disruptive figure, rather like Randall McMurphy in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and Paul Newman in COOL HAND LUKE. But in another way, we can see why Bathsheba and men in the village are drawn to him. In a society of so many dour rules and regulations, he represents charisma and independence. (Sadly, current UK has moved to the other extreme, made all the worse because its main Troys are now mostly black who lack even the tragic romanticism of Troy. Notice BBC features a Negro as Achilles, the killer of Hector before the gates of Troy.)

When Bathsheba fires the farm’s bailiff for thievery, she decides that she will manage the farm herself. She is, in short, one of those “headstrong, independent women” that every year advertisers and journalists tell us are brand new, not like the shrinking violets and clinging vines of last year... However, unlike today’s strong, independent woman stories, Far from the Madding Crowd is not a feminist morality play. Quite the opposite. Hardy shows that Bathsheba’s independence is actually a source of great suffering for herself and the people around her...

I didn't get the sense that she was supposed to be 'headstrong, independent woman'. If anything, her decision seemed practical at the moment as there wasn't anyone to replace the bailiff. Also, the fact that her uncle/aunt had hired and kept around such a crook for so long goes to show that maybe older people aren't necessarily wiser.

Does the story show that Bathsheba's independence is a source of great suffering? But, didn't things really go south when she abandoned her independence and married Troy, with whom she became tragically besotted? Now, one could argue that female independence is doomed because a woman will use it to eventually surrender her freedom to an alpha-male-type who tends to be vain, narcissistic, and irresponsible. So, maybe it's better to deny women independence and match them with responsible men than let them run free and choose, because what they'll end up doing is surrendering their freedom to some cad, jerk, or a**hole(like maybe loverboy Ricardo Spencerio)? Maybe Nina Koupriovna would have done better to marry some nice bookwormish lad than the cad Spencer, the man who would be 007 crossed with Darth Vader and Batman.

But here's the thing. Given Bathsheba's personal nature, I think things would have been doomed just the same even if she had married or been married off to some responsible kind of man. She's the kind of woman who has to 'sow her wild oates' before she finally comes to her senses.
Some people learn fast or obey orders. Others have to get burned before they finally realize that the normal, the real, and the limited have value. Consider the ending of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. The woman had to undergo rejection and humiliation before finally settling on a life with Pip(than with a pimp).
And then, there is the crazy little thing called love. In DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, the main character has a perfectly good wife, but the real love of his life is Lara, and nothing could be done about that. For some people, essentialism is enough. They heed the timeless advice of eternal truths or conventional wisdom. But other people come to grips with reality only by the way of exisentialist process of experience, actualization, and realization. While most people would do better to stick with the tried-and-true, the West moved beyond tradition because of its power of will to be different, independent, and break free of the mold. Had Bathsheba been a Chinese girl in traditional society, she would likely have done as told, just like most of the men. But she has an independent streak, and it is a double-edged sword, a force of good and bad. Also, even if she acts rather callously with her freedom, it is that very quality that makes her so enticing to men like Oak and Boldwood. She is exciting, like Catherine(Jeanne Moreau) in JULES AND JIM. Though not exactly a femme fatale like Lulu in THE BLUE ANGEL or the nymphet in LOLITA(though, to be sure, that obsession was more Humbert Humbert's own doing), she catches the eyes of men like Oak and Boldwood because of her carefree spirit. Precisely because British society was rigid, regimented, and orderly -- where everyone was supposed to know his or her part -- , someone like Bathsheba really sticks out and enchants those around her.

The basic message of Far from the Madding Crowd is that empowering a person who lacks wisdom and maturity is a bad thing. Indeed, empowering such people actually cuts them off from the sources of wisdom and maturity that they need. But it is not just an anti-feminist message, although in this case the primary victim is a woman. It is an anti-individualist message, for the whole thrust of individualism is to empower people to make their own decisions, regardless of wisdom and maturity.

I'm all for wisdom and maturity, but how does one come upon them? By the trials and errors of life(where errors are sometimes quite valuable and possessed of worth & meaning, just like some foods come with key nutrients along with the toxins; also to get the honey, one must first go through the bees). The thing is to learn from them.
At the end of the story, one might say Bathsheba and Oak are wiser and maturer precisely because they made 'mistakes' and lived through them. It's a story as old as history itself. Take Adam and Eve in Eden. In a way, one might say they didn't deserve the freedom that foolishly made them eat from the Forbidden Tree. But without freedom, they would have been robots, not humans. Also, by the tragedy of disobeying God's wisdom, they set off a complex and fascinating chain of events that made humanity so interesting.

The historical difference between the East and the West is that the former was more about the rule by the wise and mature(the elderly) and obedience by the social inferiors(usually the young). As a result, East Asia has been historically more stable than the West, but it has also been more static and stagnant. Wisdom and maturity are real strengths, but they are also ruses for power, corruption, lack of imagination, fear of change, and/or greed. Furthermore, while it's true that people may grow wiser with age, they may also grow colder and more cynical, resentful(in envy of youth), and bitter. Patriarchy has its advantages and is preferable to rule by young brutes, but it can also be stuffy and stultifying. And when an old dog can't learn new tricks, is it really wise? And even if there could be a perfectly nice society ruled by the wise and mature, would it be ideal for the young to just take advice from wise men instead of breaking out on their own and discovering for themselves what is good and bad? A parent may want his children to do as told and listen to good advice, but if a child always acts 'ideal', is he really living and becoming a man? Isn't defiance a part of what makes life meaningful? After all, a child has to learn from scrapes and bruises what pain and healing are all about. It seems helicopter parenting has done more harm than good to many kids who were, from cradle, told to follow advice than find out or think for themselves.

There is a reason why Germanic Saga needs someone like Siegfried and why Arthurian legend need someone like Perceval. While it's true that Siegfried and Perceval are inexperienced, naive, immature, and foolish at times, they also have spirit, will, and 'idealism' lacking among the established members of the Order whose roles are so set in stone that they themselves cannot bring about necessary change. Just like it took the Young Turks to create Modern Turkey from the corpse of the Ottoman Empire, there is something to be said about youth. Ancient Athens was full of youthful vigor and spirit. It made a lot of mistakes, some of them grave, but it was also a center of innovation and revolution. In contrast, Byzantine Civilization was all about timeless wisdom and truth as revealed by Christ, but it was iron rule by a corrupt elite that suppressed new ideas and thoughts lest they upset the harmonious order of orthodoxy.
And consider 'wisdom' and 'maturity' at play in the films JEAN DE FLORETTE and MANON OF THE SPRING. The old farmer uses all his guile to destroy the upstart young would-be-farmer from the city, just like the Sicilian patriarchs in THE GODFATHER PART II use their 'respected' positions to ruthlessly bump off rivals. Of course, one could argue that such men are not truly wise or mature despite their stations in the community, but too often in history, what passes for 'wisdom' and 'maturity' are tried-and-true means of power than truth or justice at any price. Look around at most aged politicians, academics, journalists, and etc., and we don't see much in the way of wisdom or maturity but merely the guise of such. Besides, people will disagree on what is wise and mature.

Also, true wisdom and maturity come with experience, and that's why Bathsheba's wisdom/maturity at the end has genuine value. She earned it through experience. She lived through her mistakes and failures. But the thing is they weren't merely mistakes and failures but motivated by real dreams and passions. Her wisdom at the end is a lived and attained wisdom. In contrast, had she not been free and merely listened to the advice of elders and did as told, she never would have felt that her wisdom is truly hers since she just received and obeyed without having experienced and learned. This is the problem with academics. So few of them really live and experience reality. Rather, they just receive the 'wisdom' of their elders in colleges. As teachers' pets, they don't need to think or try things out for themselves. They feel they know because they've been told. In contrast, many on the Dissident Right, for good or ill, decided to find out for themselves what is true or not based on their own observations and realizations than on the received 'wisdom' of PC from boomer elders.
Also, today's feminism is not about free and independent women. Rather, it's about all these girls raised by Big Sister and Big Media/Academia. In contrast, Bathsheba is a free spirit, at least for awhile, because she is free of patriarchy, the church, and yet non-existent feminist 'sisterhood'.

Another point of the story is that there is a power greater than wisdom and maturity. The mythic power of romantic love, which simply can't be dismissed as foolishness. And it's not just Bathsheba who comes under this spell in relation to Troy. It affects Gabriel Oak too. He's good at hiding his feelings, but he is madly smitten with Bathsheba. And Boldwood's assumed wisdom and maturity are instantly rendered useless against the charms of Bathsheba, even when she confesses her callous act and rejects his offer of marriage. So, what good is wisdom and maturity when even a hard-headed, responsible, experience, mature, and wise man like Boldwood falls head-over-heels over a tart like Bathsheba? Good or bad, love is what Richard Spencer likes to characterize certain things: "It is what it is." It's like Ace Rothstein just can't let go of Sharon Stone's character in CASINO even though, by all rational calculations, she was not a safe bet. It's likely think Scorsese quoted a scene from MADDING CROWD for CASINO: Bathsheba catches Boldwood's eye when she tosses wheat at bidders at the market, and Stone does the same with the chips at the craps table. For serious buttoned-down men for whom everything is business, it is refreshing to see a spirited woman with devil-may-care attitude.

Also, the element of mystery in love owes to the difference between attraction and obsession. Anyone can feel attracted to any man or woman because he or she happens to be good-looking. But why the obsession that, unlike mere attraction, lingers and clings? Why was Humbert so powerless before Lolita? Why couldn't Zhivago resist his love for Lara? Why did the German professor give up everything for the singer in THE BLUE ANGEL? In the Yukio Mishima short story PRIEST AND HIS LOVE, why did a wise elderly Buddhist priest lose his peace of mind after a glimpse of a woman? American pop scholars Beavis and Butthead might say it was 'boing', but obsession goes beyond 'boing'. It's about Boing and Time, Boing and Nothingness.

Love is strange, which is why Merlin warns against it in EXCALIBUR.

“I once stood exposed to the dragon’s breath so a man could lie one night with a woman. It took me nine moons to recover and all for this lunacy called love, this mad distemper that strikes down both beggar and king. Never again!”

And yet, without the madness of love, men wouldn't fight for glory. After all, the Trojan War was about Helen of Troy. And there would have been no Arthur if not for Uther's desire for Igraine. There's no new life without mating of men and women. Now, any man or any woman will do to create life, and in the animal world, chimps will hump just about any other chimp, even granny chimps in HAROLD AND MAUDE fashion. But humans developed an eye for beauty like a tooth for sweetness, and so, there is a fascination with romantic love that supposedly transcends mere heat of the moment.

Also, the fascination with the power of love has to do with its odd blend of fragility and tenacity. When a big lug with an ax towers over you, that is an obvious kind of power. Or if some guy is smart and has expertise in organizing men, that kind of power is also easily understood. In contrast, women are weaker than men. And beautiful men are not necessarily the most powerful. Beauty, in and of itself, is useless in the utilitarian sense, and yet it's precious like gold and enchants people in the same way. People fought with swords made of bronze and iron but for gold, which for most of human history, was pretty useless from a pragmatic point of view. Likewise, people struggle with hands and feet to win the pretty face.

In a way, we can dismiss this fixation with love & beauty as foolishness, and we may agree that maturity-and-wisdom means to look beyond romantic enticements. And yet, the power of beauty has its own 'logic'. No matter how much one may be resolved to say NO to beauty, there it is, and even the most mature and learned man whose attitude is 'been there, done that' may instantly go 'gaga' over beauty. Take the film LOVE AND DEATH IN LONG ISLAND which begins with a jaded English writer who feels he's seen and felt just about everything. He's inured to life as same-old same-old routines of boredom and seems impervious to any foolish passion, and yet, upon watching some pretty boy in a teen comedy, he is totally smitten. On the one hand, he is indeed being foolish and begins to act silly. And yet, there is a sense of excitement and vigor that had been missing in his life, and it could only have come from this fascination with the young actor.

Gabriel... consistently demonstrates manly self-discipline, conscientiousness, and technical mastery. He is, in truth, a natural leader—an alpha male... He’s a rock. He’s always there for her. And apparently there’s nothing the least bit loveable or sexy about it from her point of view.

Is he a natural leader? He seems more a natural doer. He is capable, and others rely upon him. But being a good manager isn't quite the same as being a leader who needs the power to inspire others. Gabriel is all hands and feet. He's a carpenter, not an architect. Also, if he's an alpha male, why is he like a loyal dog to a woman who shows no interest in him? He is a sturdy and capable fellow but emotionally as much beta as alpha. And of course there isn't much sexiness about being a 'rock'. Rocks don't rock but stay in place. It's the rolling stones that rock.

One spring day, Bathsheba finds an unused valentine... On a whim, Bathsheba writes “Marry Me” on it and sends it to Mr. Boldwood... A more mature woman would have admitted her mistake, apologized sincerely, and flatly refused him... But Boldwood too was at fault. He was too smitten to grasp Bathsheba’s immaturity and simply would not take no for an answer. Like Gabriel, he should have simply tried to put her out of his mind.

This shoulda-coulda perspective is too schoolmarmish for our understanding of the story. If we take the shoulda-coulda outlook in arts & culture, we can sit around griping endlessly about how foolish a whole bunch of characters acted in plays, novels, and movies. In some cases, the actions are just plain stupid and could have been avoided. But, MADDING CROWD is about individuals acting under a certain power, and the element of free will is only a small part of the whole equation. It's like when a fire is really raging, it has to burn through before people can start to plant and start anew. In the film UGETSU, one may say the potter 'made a mistake' to be seduced by the ghost-temptress, and yet the story makes us understand why the spell was irresistible. If we take a libertarian rationalist perspective, it sure was stupid for Scotty to fall head-over-heels in love with Madeline in VERTIGO, but the mythic power of love was such that he was sucked into the undertow. So, taking a rationalist and moralist approach to MADDING CROWD doesn't make us understand what is going on.
The problem is not that Boldwood is 'at fault'. He is under a spell, and it is just too powerful. Even if he decided to wake up one day and rationally will himself to forget about Bathsheba, her image and voice will haunt him all day and night. It's beyond his personal will.
Also, Oak did NOT put her out of his mind. Because he grew up tough and poor, he knows his place in the world. He knows he's no lover boy nor how to be one. He was compelled to be pragmatic all his life, and so he carries on with nose-to-grindstone. And yet, she has never left his mind. He sticks around not only for work but because he too is quietly smitten with her. The difference is that Boldwood, as a man of means and property, has a chance of winning her whereas Oak hasn't, at least until the very end when Bathsheba's been through so much that she needs a rock to hold onto. Anyway, it was easier for Oak to accept reality because he has slim chance of winning her, especially upon realizing that she's wealthier than he'd assumed at the beginning. In contrast, Boldwood is bound to suffer more because he feels he has the station and wealth to win her over. She seems within his grasp, which is why he can't let go.
Furthermore, Oak has youth and looks, which counts for something in a man. Even if Bathsheba won't have him, he has a kind of pride of strength and health. In contrast, Boldwood is a middle-aged man for whom Bathsheba is the last chance for real love and happiness. As a man of means, he could have married some nice woman long ago, but he devoted himself to work and property and assumed he'd be content with that. But in the encounter with Bathsheba, he realized how empty life was on his own, and it has to be her and her alone because she made him realize that emptiness of his. It's like a man who'd grown accustomed to undernourishment but then eyes a juicy steak that makes his mouth water so much that it has to be that steak and only that steak alone.

A mature and sensitive woman would never have trifled so callously with the old bachelor’s heart.

And yet he's grateful because he feels alive again. A mature and sensitive woman might have left him alone, but then, his entire life would have been the same old same old until he grew old and died without knowing any passion. But despite the agony and ultimately tragedy, Boldwood felt alive because of Bathsheba's high-spirited flirtation that seemed so fresh and flighty. She was like spring to a man who'd settled on never-ending winter. A bear out of hibernation is especially hungry. It's like what the woman brings to the spartan community in BABETTE'S FEAST. It disrupts the social order devoted to piety and virtue, but the folks are also grateful for flavors they'd never known.
Maturity and sensitivity are good generally but also repressive of spontaneity and inspiration. In our time, we need to stress maturity and wisdom as we live in the Age of Shameless Infantilism, but things were different in the world of MADDING CROWD. Back then, British society needed more freedom and individuality, not less. It's like warm tea is for winter, cold lemonade is for summer. We must be careful not to project current problems onto the past. Everything needs balance. It's like Robin Williams' loosening up the classroom in DEAD POETS SOCIETY makes sense in that preppy milieu, and Edward James Olmos was good to bring order & discipline to the rough barrio school in STAND AND DELIVER. Is something too hot, cool it down; if something is too cold, warm it up.

Bathsheba's valentine antic was silly and childish, but it was also unexpected. It had an element of spark. In a world where everything is routine and predictable, what Boldwood never expected came to be and ignited something in him. He received a love offer, and he was bedazzled. In SEPARATE PEACE by John Knowles, Finny certainly lacks 'maturity and sensitivity', but he's the life of the school because he takes chances and has lots of charm, which makes Gene envious and resentful.

Bathsheba might well have ended up marrying Boldwood were it not for the appearance of cavalry sergeant Francis Troy... Although his face entirely lacks beauty or character, the fact that he is tall, dashing, and wears a uniform makes him irresistible to women. Troy, however, is a cad, with a full suite of what the manosphere calls “Dark Triad” traits—narcissism, sociopathy, and manipulativeness—which women commonly mistake for healthy alpha male traits...

Terence Stamp lacks beauty? I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but Terence Stamp was considered one of the most beautiful men of his time. And he looks fabulous in MADDING CROWD. It's no wonder he was cast in Pasolini's TEOREMA as a god-like figure who comes to a bourgeois family and commit sexual-like acts, homo and straight, with each of the members. John Simon called it 'godomy'.

It seems Lynch sees too much of Richard Spencer in Troy(LOL), and this clouds his judgement about the character. Troy is something of a cad but not entirely, and he is not without certain depths and twisted integrity of his own.

Before Bathsheba came on the scene, Troy had seduced, impregnated, and then abandoned one of the farm girls, Fanny Robin. He actually agreed to marry her. But it was an impromptu affair, and when she went to the wrong church at the appointed time, his vanity was so inflamed that he broke the engagement.

That over-simplifies what really happened. One doesn't get the sense that Troy seduced a farm girl merely for self-amusement. Also, it probably didn't require much in the way of seduction because it's easy to fall for a handsome dashing soldier. And, he didn't abandon her but called off the wedding when she arrived late. This wasn't just a matter of simpering vanity. The fact is, despite Troy being a man without means, he was willing to do the right thing and marry below his station because he had genuine feelings for Fanny. Besides, as he didn't know about the pregnancy, he wasn't acting out of social compulsion. In his view, he was being gracious and going out of his way to do a favor to Fanny. All his men surely heard about the wedding, and he invited some of them to the ceremony. So, he did his part to do something for Fanny, but the simple-minded country girl totally humiliated him in front of his peers. It wasn't really her fault, but we can surely understand his fury. This was a matter of wounded pride, not mere vanity. And back then, a man's reputation relied much on pride and honor. So, it is understandable why he found Fanny's absence at the wedding to be utterly intolerable.

In one of the best scenes of the film, Boldwood tries to bribe Troy into marrying Fanny and leaving Bathsheba to him. Troy toys with Boldwood, then announces that he is too late, for he has married Bathsheba that very morning. Boldwood is crushed.

This is actually to Troy's credit. It shows that he is not just about money and cannot be bought. He does have a sense of pride and, if anything, despises Boldwood for being so weak and ultimately servile.

The honeymoon does not last long... He is immediately accepted as lord of the manor, but he has no knowledge of farming or interest in responsibility. In a scene that beautifully illustrates his character—or lack of it—he regales the adoring farmhands with bawdy military songs while drinking them under the table. Meanwhile, a storm brews up, and when Gabriel tries to get some of the farmhands away from the party to secure the hayricks from being blown away, he is rebuffed by Troy who does not want to lose his audience. It is classic narcissist behavior. So Gabriel and Bathsheba herself struggle in the storm, soaked to the bone, to save the farm from loss while Troy’s revelries continue.

Again, this is an over-simplification of what really happened. It was a festive moment with dancing, music, and food-and-drinks. Anxious of the looming storm, Oak rather feebly tries to convey the message to Troy who, at the moment, is in a middle of a dance with Bathsheba. Naturally, Troy doesn't want to be interrupted. If Oak really cared about recruiting some men to tie the hay down, he should have gone to Troy directly, but he uses a rather ineffective doddering intermediary. Too busy dancing, Troy never heard anything about the storm. So, it's not like he refused aid despite knowledge of the looming storm. He never got the message. Also, Oak could have made his case before the people in the barn AFTER THE DANCE, but he remains tight-lipped. Why didn't Oak himself walk up to Troy. Because he has his own sense of wounded pride. He is quietly sulking over the fact that the woman HE loves married Troy. So, he'd rather use a go-between. And if he really needed a few men to help him, he could pulled them away without permission from Troy who isn't paying much attention anyway.

Also, is it such a bad thing that, once in a long while, the men of the village have a pretty good time with song and drink with Troy who, instead of looking down on them as mere farmhands, treats them as fellow-revelers? The fact is Troy never heard of the storm, and it took some time before the men in the barn were totally drunk. But Oak never once runs back in to call for help.
In a way, he seems almost grateful to go it alone because hard work is his therapy, his way of coping with disappointments. Some people go for comfort-food. Oak goes for comfort-work. It's a way to get his mind off things.
But more importantly, it is his opportunity to demonstrate his true worth to Bathsheba. It is through work and hardship that he is able to bond with her, if only for a moment as she comes out to work alongside him. He can't be the white knight but can be the work-horse who proves his worth. And Bathsheba is impressed and grateful for what seems like selfless devotion on his part. While the sheep are prancing with the wolf in the barn, the loyal dog is weathering the storm to serve the master.

Bathsheba is willing to suffer quite a lot because she is “in love” with Troy.

Mythic love is the strongest and most potent kind of love. What is the appeal of Greek mythology? Why do mortals fall in love with gods and even make love with them? By human standards, gods seem vain, irresponsible, and self-indulgent, but that's because they are gods and live by their own rules. A vulgarized form of this is celebrity worship in our society, and it's often stupid. But we can understand why people feel this way. Children naturally identify with princes and princesses than with hardworking peasants or blacksmiths. In MONTY PYTHON'S HOLY GRAIL, the toiling peasants rail against the exploitative king and nobility, but we are always drawn more to gods, kings, knights, and heroes than with ordinary folks, no matter how decent they are.

Now, I'm all for humanism, but the mythic side of human psychology isn't going away anytime soon. In the end, humanism prevails because no man, however brilliant or handsome, is literally a god. They grow old and die. Look at Sean Connery now. Still, we can understand why Bathsheba fell in love with Troy for his 'vain' and 'irresponsible' godlike qualities. He acts like he's too good for ordinary work. Though not of noble lineage(as far as I could tell), he was of the warrior profession and comports like a man suited for adventure and glamour. In MILDRED PIERCE, why does the eponymous heroine toil to support a man of finesse and class? Because one can't really buy style. Some have it, some don't. Now, is Troy a contemptible figure like the guy in MILDRED PIERCE? Deeply flawed but no. There is a saving grace about Troy to which Lynch is willfully blind.

But things come crashing down when a very pregnant Fanny Robin shows up at the farm asking for Troy’s help, then promptly dies in childbirth. When the coffin is brought to the farm for burial, Gabriel hides the fact that it also contains a baby... Troy then walks in, and... he seems to be filled with love and remorse for Fanny... He is simulating love and dejection merely to spite Bathsheba. Troy then goes to the ocean, undresses, and swims out to sea.

Lynch fails to mention that when Fanny showed up, Troy was kind and gentle with her, and he did try to get the money for her. Troy is not without a soul. He did have and still has genuine feelings for Fanny. Bathsheba misunderstood this by suspecting infidelity on his part. She thought he was asking for money for an affair. It was to do right by Fanny.

As for Troy's sudden rush of emotions about dead Fanny, something he hadn't felt before, it too has to do with the mythic dimensions of love. While alive, Fanny was just a pretty girl he'd been engaged to or a pitiable figure in need of charity, but as a dead woman(especially with his child) she becomes the stuff of myth. There's a blend of guilt, spirituality, and poetry in how Troy feels about Fanny as ghost. It's like Madeleine comes to mean much more to Scotty after she dies in VERTIGO. She goes from sad beauty to the stuff of myth. And in LA STRADA, the death of Gelsomina has a devastating effect on Zampano. She goes from human dog to an angel.

The notion that Troy was merely 'simulating' or faking emotions to spite Bathsheba doesn't do justice to what really happens in that scene. Troy may not be a deep character who carries life lessons wherever he goes, but he is consumed by the passion of the moment, and his pathos upon gazing at dead Fanny was not fake. In that moment at least, he discovered a kind of love he had never known or felt, and compared to this dark love of tragic poetry, Bathsheba looked like a flighty little bird, a nothing. He becomes, at least for awhile, as consumed in his love for mythic Fanny as Bathsheba is for mythic Troy(and as Boldwood is for mythic Bathsheba). In all three cases, the characters see more than there really is, but then love is always an illusion to some degree. To Boldwood, Bathsheba isn't just a pretty woman but a goddess whom he must serve if not possess. To Bathsheba, Troy isn't just a handsome feller but a god-man who lives by his own rules. It's as if he descended from Mt. Olympus. And to Troy, the image of dead Fanny and her child fills him with dark and deep vision of love and beauty he hadn't known but now knows and feels with such power(though not forever as he's not that kind of man).

Love is subjective and relative. It's like the circus scene when Troy in disguise stands before a horse trained to feign death. Some in the audience are laughing, some are amused, some are a bit sad, but one man is bawling in grief. Why? Something especially mushy about his character? Or did he know of a beloved horse that died?
Individuals and objects elicit different responses from us depending on our emotional nature, genetic makeups, life histories, and memories. Fanny, Troy, and Bathsheba belong to a circular trio whereas Oak and Boldwood are left out. What do Fanny, Troy, and Bathsheba have in common? All three were overcome with mad love and were objects of mad love. Bathsheba was the object of mad love by Boldwood and Oak(who hides it beneath his tough and hardened exterior). Troy was the object of mad love by Bathsheba(and perhaps Fanny). And Fanny, at least in death, becomes the object of mad love by Troy. In contrast, no one loved Boldwood and Oak madly.

As Christmas approaches, Boldwood... will be announcing his engagement. But then disaster strikes... Troy reappears. He has faked his death. But having heard of Bathsheba’s prospective engagement, he returns out to spite to assert his marital rights. Bathsheba is shocked and refuses to follow him. So Troy begins to manhandle her. Then we hear a shot. Troy falls dead on the stairs. Boldwood stands with a rifle.

I think saying that he 'faked' his death is too harsh. Based on what is shown, it seems he failed in his death. Drowning oneself at sea isn't easy. Also, what did Troy have to gain by faking his death? Having failed in his death, he hides in shame by traveling around with some hokey circus troupe doing pony tricks.
One thing for sure, he did swim far out to sea after taking his clothes off. If he really just wanted to fake his death, he wouldn't have gone nude at all or ran into the waves. He would have just left some clothes behind and ran off.

Then we witness one of the most wrenching tragic climaxes since Sophocles. Bathsheba breaks down in tears over her beloved Frank. Boldwood looks on, in utter horror, at the abyss of irrationality into which he has now flung his life. He will hang for this, for absolutely nothing. Two men are dead, one noble, the other absolutely base, all for a woman of genuine beauty and goodness who was empowered to make catastrophic decisions that destroyed two lives and brought misery to her own.

LOL. I'm telling you. Troy isn't as bad as Richard Spencer but then Richard Spencer isn't as bad as 'Richard Spencer', the delusional Faustian Batman. He just needs to grow up and put away childish things.

Irrationality, yes, but emotions are irrational. Why was Boldwood so obsessed with Bathsheba? Irrational. And yet, it is too simplistic to say that he will 'hang... for absolutely nothing'. He will hang for the profound truth of love. And if he were given a choice between a scenario where he never fell in love with Bathsheba & lived a quiet life all alone AND a scenario where he faces execution after having fallen in love with her and killed for her, he might still have chosen the latter because it brought him close to love and passion even if it leads to the gallows. Tragedy has its own beauty.
Also, ironically enough, it is his killing of Troy that reignites her mad passion for Troy, just like the death of Fanny made Troy love her more than he could have loved her alive. And in a way, it's fitting that both men's lives end in doom. Troy, the man for whom Bathsheba felt impossible love, and Boldwood, the man who felt impossible love for Bathsheba. Boldwood may hang, but for several years, he has truly lived life and plumbed the depths of human emotions from the high drama. When he killed Troy, did he think he was protecting Bathsheba from him? Did he kill out of jealousy? And yet, even though Bathsheba and Boldwood will never be together, they are united in the same emotions, that of the impossible love. Whatever happens, Troy was the great love of her life, and whatever happens, Bathsheba was the great and only love of Boldwood's life.

When, at the end of STRAW DOGS, Dustin Hoffman's character finally finishes off one of the invaders with a wolf trap, it turns out his wife is more horrified by the death(of her former lover and rapist) than relieved to see her husband triumphant. Irrational perhaps, but there is an underlying rationality to irrationality. If in evolutionary history, women gravitated toward and felt safer with stronger alpha males than weaker males, then women will be genetically programmed to favor alphas over betas. And if we evolved to appreciate beauty as an intoxicant, then it is natural and 'rational' that we would be smitten with it and work so hard to attain it in one form or another. Everything 'irrational' makes sense from another perspective. If beauty is precious and alluring, then people will be drawn to beauty like plants to sunlight. Just like the beautiful Rhine Maiden say NO to the ugly Nibelungen, the game of beauty is where the blessed few get to play gods, at least in the summer of youth.

Also, Boldwood isn't that noble, and Troy isn't that base. If Boldwood were so noble, he would care more about the betterment of the community than fixate so heavily on bliss with Bathsheba. And Troy, like the Burt Lancaster character in THE SWIMMER, is a romantic, a saving grace. He is sometimes a jerk, but he is more, if in surprise even to himself. But then, no one fully understands oneself, and things happen that release emotions that shockingly upend one's sense of self and worldview. There is a gentle kind of wisdom that one learns through study and discourse, but there is another kind of wisdom that can only be attained by trial by fire. It's like there's gentle conversion to a new faith based on sacred texts & rituals, and then, there's impassioned conversion like Paul's Damascus moment. A sense of being born again.

...instead of wasting away in Bathsheba’s friend zone, Gabriel decides to move to America. Only then does Bathsheba truly appreciate him. For she can only really love a man who is independent of her. She rushes to stop him. Gabriel says he will stay under one condition. Then, in a gesture that will pierce even the most cynical hearts, he repeats word for word his vision of married life that she had rejected at the beginning of the film. But this time she says yes. It was the right choice...
The movie ends with Gabriel and Bathsheba settling into married bliss. But then the eye of the camera strays over to Troy’s clock, focusing on the soldier in the tower, like a memento mori to remind us that the Troys of the world and the irrational romanticism they evoke will always threaten marriage and family life.

Did Oak really plan on moving to America or was it a ploy to bind Bathsheba closer to him? And does she suddenly feel love for Oak because of his plan to emigrate, a sign of independence from her? I think not. After all, upon being rebuffed at the beginning of the film, Oak demonstrated his independence by accepting her decision and carrying on. At one time, she banished him from the farm, and he just took up and left. Oak demonstrated, at least outwardly, time and time again that he can go on without her. But all that time, Bathsheba didn't feel any love for him.

In a way, Oak is just as irrational as Boldwood and Troy. If he really wanted a family, he should have found some nice farm girl and started a family. But he remained single because he only cared for one woman. Even when she married Troy and then was about to marry Boldwood, he hung around, unmarried. It was as if he was so smitten with her that he was waiting for second servings and leftovers in case some tragedy struck, and by some luck(or tragedy, but then, one man's misfortune is another man's fortune), chance killed two birds with one stone. Boldwood took out Troy, and the Law took him out. Oak was running third but the first-runner and second-runner tripped over one another, and Oak ended up 'finishing first'.
But then, the fact is Troy had her first, and Boldwood almost had her second. Oak got her by luck, and one wonders what he would have done if she'd married Boldwood and if Troy hadn't returned. Would he have waited around, growing older, in the hope that Boldwood will die and then finally Bathsheba will marry him? There is a slow-burning romanticism in that. The fact is Oak is himself a romantic though he hasn't the style and means to show it. So, he broods silently and takes out his frustrations through hard work. And in the end, he reaps his rewards, but the moral tale isn't just about the primacy of marriage and family. If it were, Oak would have settled down with some nice dependable farm girl than hang around for leftovers because he can't get Bathsheba out of his mind.

Also, in an odd way, Troy was the matchmaker of Bathsheba and Oak because she had to get it out of her system(via her mad burning love with Troy) to finally arrive at a more balanced and stable outlook on life. Her appreciation of Oak couldn't have been possible if not for her tumultuous life journey with Troy, the peaks and pits of her life. It's like it took Dorothy's adventure in the land of Oz for her to finally appreciate that there's no place like home.

The Anglo-Saxon character has been defined by love of risk & adventure and appreciation of security & order. Some on the Alt Right say Spencerism represents the 'imperialist' Anglo will to wander, conquer, and discover whereas 'nationalist' Johnsonism represents the Anglo wish to preserve, defend, and maintain. Both were crucial in the rise of Anglosphere, a spirit of adventure tempered by discipline and sobriety.
After all, the overly cautious are hardly conquerors. East Asian high civilization, conservative and cautious, remained locked within East Asia. In contrast, Europeans were willing to throw caution to the winds and go sailing across oceans just to see what's on the other side. There was an element of madness in all this, but without it, there would have been no triumph of the West. Granted, European adventure was premised on European order, much like church towers are buttressed by support systems, something too many people have forgotten about the West, especially British Civilization.

The tragedy of Troy is he didn't have enough battles to fight. Just like Oak is at his best immersed in work, Troy feels most alive and useful in the battlefield with a saber. Even on the farm, he prefers cockfights to the drudgery of labor, but then that is why Bathsheba married him. She wanted a god with a saber atop a horse, not another farm hand with a pitchfork.

1 comment:

  1. In response to the review of Far from the Madding Crowd, it's encouraging to see this forgotten film back in the spotlight. Not only is it a superb critique of human nature; it is a perfect time capsule of English life in the 1870's. Credit also goes to Tess, with a German lead actress who had to learn a new language when filming began. Polanski's take on the Victorian era is decidedly darker than Schlesinger's, but both movies make important statements.