not that you would know

Friday, October 31st, 2014

not that you would know

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* Room with a View spoilers * There’s a thing that happens…

Friday, March 8th, 2013

* Room with a View spoilers *

There’s a thing that happens when I really love a movie, and watch it over and over. On the fifth or the tenth viewing I suddenly notice something I’d missed before, and a whole new layer of meaning opens up. And from then on I always look for that moment.

I thought about that when I read the excerpt from Maggie Smith’s Wall Street Journal interview, talking about her continued presence on Downton Abbey. It made me remember my favorite moment of hers from A Room with a View. It’s really a small thing; just the way Charlotte stands by the window during the scene when Lucy is “lying to George”, and then Charlotte’s reaction when George leaves.

When I first watched the movie I couldn’t stand Charlotte. She’s the kind of person that really bothers me in real life, so hypocritical and false. And it was only after multiple viewings that I came to appreciate what’s going on with her character. Lucy is recapitulating Charlotte’s own early history. By rejecting George, Lucy is bringing back Charlotte’s memories of her own lost chance at love. And in this scene, by demanding that Charlotte remain in the room while she tells George off, Lucy is unknowingly hurting Charlotte far more than she intends.

At a certain point I stopped paying attention to Lucy and George during this scene, and started focusing on Charlotte, standing by the window listening, not saying anything. And it’s heartbreaking.

At the end of the scene Charlotte says, “I shall never forgive myself,” and Lucy, flush with her newfound sense of agency, calls her on it. But it’s the one time Charlotte says the line when it’s actually true. And my sense is that she’s referring to her own act of rejecting love as much as she’s referring to Lucy’s.

I went trolling through the Tumblr tags for a gif of that scene, but no luck. But then I discovered that the whole movie is available on YouTube. So there you go: I linked above to the scene in question. Don’t watch it if you haven’t seen the movie. Or do watch it, but then go back and watch the whole thing. Because it’s worth it.

There are so many great things about A Room with a View. It totally deserved the three Oscars it won (for art direction, costumes, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenplay). Platoon beat it for Best Picture, but I know which of the two movies I’ve felt compelled to rewatch a dozen times since then. And taking nothing away from Dianne Wiest in Hannah and Her Sisters, but if it were up to me, Maggie Smith would have won Best Supporting Actress for this scene alone, in which she barely does anything more than stand by a window, remembering.

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