07 January 2008

I Capture the Castle

I promise myself not to take too long to write this entry tonight, as it's well past midnight and I've got a lot of things to do tomorrow. But of course I need to write something about this film which I grow to love. I did read the novel whilst in England and couldn't find any other novel that felt so British. It's so stuffy, eccentric, and mouldy ... Pardon my adjectives, methinks it's somehow impossible to describe this Britishness.

The film centres around the close relationship of the two sisters, Rose and Cassandra, who need to live with their weird father in a run-down castle. The father is a writer who hasn't produced anything for twelve years due to the writer's block and his inability to share his emotional anguish after the death of his wife. Despite his remarrying, things still don't look good and the whole family is poverty-stricken. Rose and Cassandra dream to escape this sad present, as best represented by their entrapment in the castle itself.
Of course, one day luck is on their side, as a car breaks down near their castle by accident and the two girls have an opportunity to meet two men, Simon and Neil, who inherit the whole estate. The story then develops in a predictable manner, as Rose tries to seduce Simon, with whom Cassandra secretly falls in love. As it is, Cassandra also has her secret admirer, gorgeous Stephen, whom she spurns.

However, what I think is good about this film/novel is that it does nicely portray how confused Cassandra is and how overwhelmingly she must have felt in such an age when love can easily blow her away. She is of course intelligent enough to rationalise all this and, through her journal, is able to make choices and grow up wisely and beautifully. I think I haven't given away the ending, but as I reflect, perhaps the ending is not that important. What counts is how one steers through, how one negotiates one's desire, how one learns that love is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Yet, one still needs to be loyal to love, if one can afford to ...

Now let's me disappoint you with the turn of the argument ...

"If one can afford to" is perhaps a good phrase that sums up this coming-of-age story too, as it portrays the departure of a good-old-day England full of honour and dignity, and in its place the arrival of a new English when capitalism finally kicks in, leading people to believe that money is god. The film is clearly nostalgic in this sense and shows Dodie Smith's yearning for that image that has long vanished. Cassandra sticks with loyalty and honour, whilst Rose escapes to America with her lover.

Even though some may feel that the last image is very telling and optimistic, i.e. having Cassandra perching up on top of the castle, understanding what love is and yet becoming defiant, I feel despondent because I believe that Cassandra is actually the England that has long gone, and her image is just a silhoulette projected by Smith's own desire for that old chivalric English to stay. The new England is probably Rose, not Cassandra, who is self-indulgent, spoiled, and not longer cares for ceremony. Only money matters for Rose, as she's understandably been living with poverty for so long ... Even though she realises in the end who she really loves, I remain suspicious no longer taking her seriously.

In the end, I do wonder what 'I Capture the Castle' means. Does it mean Cassandra understands her own entrapment and willingly lets herself be entraped in this English chivalric code of honour and 'truthfulness to her heart's desire' and fearlessness of poverty? Or does it mean Smith finally understands the dying old England and therefore attempts to capture it in her memory? Or does it mean Dechito's experience of England leads him to this representation and he lets himself be persuaded and captured by this representation? Before I can think these through, let me go to sleep.

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