Lowdown: A forbidden adult love affair takes place in front of a boy refusing to see it.
Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between, a film from 1970, is one of those classic films I kept on reading about whenever I read serious analysis of cinema work. As a direct result of this reading I was looking to see the film for myself for many years now, but up until ABC broadcast it recently I was unable to put my hands on a copy. That said, I have to say the ABC version didn’t do this film much good: for a film shot in English countryside and renowned for its cinematography, The Go-Between's print on air at the ABC gave the exact opposite impression. There is just no way a film like that, a true classic, can compete with the modern crap flooding us if this is all the chance it would get.
Set in England of some hundred years ago or so (between the Boer Wars and the World War I), we follow a young teen called Leo as he goes to spend his boarding school’s summer vacation at the estate of a rich school friend. There he encounters riches, class, servants and a lovely sister – Julie Christie – with whom he falls in love the way a young child falls for the charms of a seemingly providing adult. Soon enough the boy finds himself acting as a messenger for Christie’s lovers: on one hand a war veteran noble man, her prescribed engagement; on the other a low class farmer with whom she should not be really keeping in touch if she is to follow the manners of the time (Alan Bates).
As the story develops, Leo falls for Christie more and more as she uses him more and more, demonstrating why adults should not mess about Lolita style: their perceived authority could easily ruin the child. Through short glimpses of Leo’s future, casually provided to us at key points of the film, we see the effects this use of an innocent child has on the subsequent adult.
The nice thing about The Go-Between is the subtlety with which it goes about telling its story. It is never in your face and there is never a scene which would make you call the police because a child is being abused, yet the cumulative effect of it all and - yes, the sheer subtlety of it all - have a dangerously corrosive effect. On the down side, this style implies a kind of slowness we are not used to much anymore with contemporary cinema; conditioned by the likes of Star Wars – The Phantom Menace we expect instant gratification and some faster pacing.
It’s hard for me to tell what message The Go-Between is trying to convey. Should it be taken for a mere story on the fragility of human nature as well as its inherent cruelty, a cruelty that can manifest itself in the most subtle of ways? Or is the abused child meant a symbol for something larger, like the English culture having to release itself from the shackles of a class system but not managing to do so well enough?
Regardless, The Go-Between is a thinker’s film.
Best scene: Leo refuses to deliver Christie’s message to Bates; Christie reacts by switching from the smiling fairy into a power corrupt abuser and blames Leo for everything. Christie’s acting, especially in this scene, is superb.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Slow, subtle and the complete opposite of “in your face”; they don’t make them like that anymore. And when box office revenues rule the day, you can see why the blockbuster sequel has pushed The Go-Between and its likes out of the market.