2008/11/24

Brideshead Revisited


I find it sad, but also somewhat amusing, that contemporary Hollywood producers are more conservative than British upperclass Catholic converts in the 1940's; compare the current film version of Brideshead Revisited with Evelyn Vaugh's novel from 1945.

In the original, Charles is fascinated by the aristocratic Marchmain family, especially the younger son Sebastian. In the movie, focus is shifted from their ambiguous relationship to a kind of triangle drama between Charles, Sebastian and the latter's sister Julia, who enters Charles' life much later in the novel. According to the producer, this was done because "the theme of love across a religious and aristocratic divide has contemporary relevance".

Poppycock, I say. It is threatening to mainstream Hollywood that a relationship between two men (regardless of the sexual content) could be of equal worth to a relationship between a man and a woman; the heterosexual romance has been elevated to the highest possible fulfillment of a plot (a relatively modern development; see Jonathan Ned Katz's brilliant The Invention of Heterosexuality).

The novelist himself, with a deeply religious message to boot, lets Charles state: "Charles's romantic affection for Sebastian is part due to the glitter of the new world Sebastian represents, part to the protective feeling of a strong towards a weak character, and part a foreshadowing of the love for Julia which is to be the consuming passion of his mature years." Thus, I see his view of love between men as rather pre-modern; an introduction to love, a rite of passage perhaps, but not the ultimate fulfillment. However, in contrast to the hegemonic narrative of modern Hollywood, heterosexual love does not bring this ultimate fulfillment either. Vaughn's goal is love divine, in the selfless act of forgiving and letting go, not in the selfish act of possessing another human being.

Even though I cannot call myself a theist, I don't think much of this current idolizing of romantic love as the magical cure of all evils; as anyone who is or has been in a relationship knows, dreaming of love is easy, living with it is hard work.

Luckily I discovered the ITV series from 1981 first, with a young Jeremy Irons as Charles. Just as you think it cannot possibly get any campier, enter Anthony! (I wish I could be there.)

1 comment:

[Tara] said...

I agree with you on this. Sometimes I feel that society is socially or artistically regressing, that there is a fear of the truth of human relationships and truly original or avant-garde approaches to things. Hollywood is certainly to blame in part. What is unfortunate is that I think people are actually tired [on a certain] level of this poppycock and ready to be challenged...good post!