Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Buckeye Jones

The Remains of the Day

Recommended Posts

We watched The Remains of the Day a couple of weeks ago. Its stuck with me more than most of the films I've seen recently. I don't know where to start, but since this film is almost 15 years old, I figured that it would be safe to start its own thread.

I really enjoyed the quality of acting in the film. I often worry that these period dramas will come off very stuffy, and, well, staged. I note that Hopkins, Thompson, and Fox are all stage-trained, and think its their cinematic work here that really helps this film avoid a staged-like feel (that I see in something like, The Big Kahuna). But the intimacy of the film is such that it really brings the characters into a sharp tension--the heartache is palpable. And its the actors who make it work--their interaction with each other, with the spaces created by Ivory and his team, their habits, bearings, and even their gaits, all add into the excellency of this film.

I love how Ivory uses Darlington Hall in this film to create a sense of class and compartmentalization. Often we are seeing through a window or a doorway into another room. We feel the walls around the characters. Long shots down the hallways, crowded at times, other times not, force the characters in and out of our vision. The colors are rich, yet not oversaturated, and the tonal palette changes to greys in the current views of the hall, with glimpses of light here and there, echoing Mr. Stevens' person and growing self awareness.

And what aching heartbreak! The scenes of course which standout: Stevens, Ms. Kenton and the book, Ms. Kenton

sobbing in her room after accepting a proposal of marriage

, Lewis teasing Stevens. I love how the film draws in the misguidedness, blatant and stupid misguidedness, of Lord Darlington and his gentlemanly approach to appeasement with Germany, and entangles it with Stevens' own misguidedness in his relationships he has subsumed to the ideal of service. In the end, he's done disservice to his employer, his staff, his friends and family, and himself.

If I can temper my praise with one complaint, the ending,

with the trapped pigeon

, was heavy handed. There was no need for it--it was the only point in the in which I felt that Ivory wanted to MAKE SURE I got it.

Edited by Buckeye Jones

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This film came out only a few weeks before the big-screen version of Shadowlands, as I recall, and wow, to see Anthony Hopkins so repressed in this film and then letting it all go at the end of the other film ... that was quite a potent combination. Remains of the Day is easily the better film overall, though.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This film came out only a few weeks before the big-screen version of Shadowlands, as I recall, and wow, to see Anthony Hopkins so repressed in this film and then letting it all go at the end of the other film ... that was quite a potent combination. Remains of the Day is easily the better film overall, though.

The DVD contained some deleted scenes, one of which was

Hopkins breaking down and crying after Thompson leaves him to return to her husband

. Ivory said that he didn't include it because he felt it took away from the overall piece, and because he never liked it, even as written, and only shot it because he felt he owed it to Hopkins, as the actor felt it was the key scene to understanding his character. It did appear a bit "actory", and I think the film's better without it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If I can temper my praise with one complaint, the ending,

with the trapped pigeon

, was heavy handed. There was no need for it--it was the only point in the in which I felt that Ivory wanted to MAKE SURE I got it.

Great thread starter Buckeye.

I'm reluctant to post early in it, because it's hard for me to do so without pulling out the teaching credentials, but I'll just say that I've taught the novel in several British Lit survey and 20th Century lit courses.

The film, while not perfect, is one of my favorite literary adaptations and one of the most successful.

I agree with you as to the end and I hasten to add in Ishiguro's defense (always defending the writer, I am) that it was not in the novel. The novel was in confessional, first person (the film's voiceover retaining much of it), but the ending was one that depended on a high degree of contrast between the interior dialogue and exterior action which would have been extremely hard to convey and which itself is marked with (I think) a fair amount of ambiguity. Very difficult to film. I was disatisfied with the ending on several accounts, but I'm not sure what I would have done to be better and as Merchant-Ivory solved a LOT of adaptation problems to bring the film to the screen, I'll give em a pass on this one.

Peace.

Ken

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was disatisfied with the ending on several accounts, but I'm not sure what I would have done to be better and as Merchant-Ivory solved a LOT of adaptation problems to bring the film to the screen, I'll give em a pass on this one.

An aside: I was tempted to quote you in full as I think my first encounter with one of your posts was in a thread in which you'd already excised them. I remember commenting something along the lines that it was a long thread and didn't make a whole lot of sense because there was a bunch of replies to a kenmorefield who no longer seemed to exist.

Any, what did you find dissatisfying about the end? I note your desire to wait until the thread grows to really participate, but as it is a 13 yr old film, and probably one which has not been seen very recently by many, I don't expect it to grow much quickly (if at all). As mentioned by me above, the director's commentary indicated that the scene I've described in spoiler quotes was in the novel, but he did not feel it worked in the film. So its interesting that he added a scene that wasn't in the novel to end the film. I wonder would you think the inclusion of the alternate scene would have been better?

Edited by Buckeye Jones

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

:spoilers: :spoilers: :spoilers:

[Also Emma spoilers!]

Any, what did you find dissatisfying about the end? I note your desire to wait until the thread grows to really participate, but as it is a 13 yr old film, and probably one which has not been seen very recently by many, I don't expect it to grow much quickly (if at all).

No, not really regarding the alternate scene. More on that at the end. The rest requires me to spout off on some length, but since you asked....

I often try to introduce undergraduates to simplified or entry-level models of theoretical approaches so that they can practice approaching literature from different critical orientations (rather than always being Formalist or New Critical). I find this novel provides a good example for undergraduates to practice a psychoanaltic approach to literature, which in this case can simply mean acquiring a broadened vocabularly for the way they talk about character and character development.

Although psychoanalytic criticism in the Freudian tradition is basically dead as far as serious academic publishing, many of the concepts and terms from it are firmly embedded in the cultural conscious and are very useful as shorthand labels for talking about behavior (even if, like me, you don't buy Freud's--or whoever's--explanation for the cause of some, most, or all of those behaviors).

When I first encouraged students to familiarize themselves with some of the terms of psychoanalytic approaches and to try to apply them, it became apparent that Stevens's dominant character trait is his isolation. Dictionary.com defines this psychological term as:

3 : a psychological defense mechanism consisting of the separating of ideas or memories from the emotions connected with them

The text I use sometimes (Steven Lynn's Texts and Contexts) describes it simply as not showing or manifesting emotion, even when doing so would be considered normal or appropriate.

One of the interesting points of tension that runs throughout the novel is that Stevens's quest to be a great butler is defined by him as maintaing a dignity in keeping with his profession and it is clear that he has defined "dignity" as a stoic, external lack of affect in the face of tumultuous circumstances. (If you were in my class--and aren't you glad you're not--I could flesh this out with textual examples where he talks about or illustrates what he thinks "dignity" is--the Hayes definition, his father's story about the tiger under the table, his own conduct on the night of his father's death, etc.)

That is to say, Stevens's concept of greatness, what he aspires to be--is shockingly parallel to some people's defintion of a form of mental illness (or at least a description of an emotionally unhealthy person). (Aside, sometimes the Psychoanalytic approach gets merged here with some cultural or Marxist approaches that can lead to discussions about to what extent that damaging conception is self (or family) imposed and to what extent it is culturally or socially imposed based on class, race, or gender differences.)(Aside to the aside, the language used to describe Darlington Hall, especially the Butler's pantry, is very consistent with your reading of the compartmentalization and trapped-ness. Remember Stevens's objection to the intrustion of flowers--organic material--into the "heart" of the building.)

For me, there is a lot of ambiguity in the novel, because as Stevens gets closer in his drive to the climactic encounter with Ms. Kenton, he tells a history that shows a pattern of repressing or sublimating emotions, but he also shows signs of perhaps being ready to change those patterns. (For example, he is able to admit his association with Lord Darlington to the guy who drops him off and to admit he was a butler and not a gentleman) Although he is still repressing or avoiding emotionally painful subjects, an argument can be made that he is becoming more self-aware of how he is acting and more receptive to the possibility of change in ways that he was not earlier.

The climactic scene with Miss Kenton (excuse me, Mrs. Benn ;) ), is, I think ,more ambiguous in the novel than the film, because in the film it plays out well on the literal level in showing they will not be getting together. But the book allows for a possibility that correctlng past mistakes may mean something more than simply changing the outcome/external situation. It may mean changing something internal. In that case, although the exterior circumstances would still be bitterly, bitterly painful, there is some hope for me that Stevens might have turned a corner towards being a healthier and better person for the Remains of the Day and not just had the last nail driven into the proverbial coffin.

The climactic scene(s) in the novel are made more ambiguous by the first person narration, and so key elements towards understanding or revealing the psychological nuances of the characters' states can be tantalizingly close yet still elusive. Who speaks first? What precisely is said? (Is Stevens's recollection accurate and reliable here, or could he be repressing or shading it in the way he initially did with some of his other recollections--like the wording of her letter?) Stevens's isn't the most reliable narrator throughout the book, so those who chose to can even doubt his version of events here in a way that is harder to do in film (where lots of ambiguity as to meaning is possible but ambiguity as to what happened is a bit harder).

I've alternately read the climactic scene in very different ways. One in which Stevens makes the whole journey and then, at the moment of truth, sees that she is not going to return to Darlington and retreats yet again. One in which he sees she will not return but has a breakthrough and is able to, finally, express his feelings in some faltering way rather than simply push them down again. One in which he starts to do the former but she, in an act of extraordinary kindness, enables him to respond to her professed disappointment by admitting, yeah, I felt something too, but in a context where he is instructing her as a friend about her feelings rather than being transparently vulnerable about his own. [Aside--sometimes the gender readings poke in here, too. I often end up comparing this scene to the climactic declaration at the end of Emma in which it is obvious that Knightley wants Emma to pry the declaration out of him rather than be in the emotionally vulnerable position of declaring his feelings first, even though he knows full well that that the cultural expectations are for the female to be the respondent rather than the declarant and that for a woman to do so exacerbates her emotional and cultural vulnerability. Further aside--I sometimes like to underscore that fact because it addresses the question of whether Emma completes or complements Knightley or is just going to be ruled by him as the benign patriarch. I think Emma has a sort of emotional courage that Knightley lacks, and I'm willing to say that that history colors my reading of the Stevens-Kenton relationship and, especially, their last encounter.)

Because of the ambiguity of the climax, I'm especially interested in the return, not just as an anti-climax but for hints about what happened in the climax (and, if I interpret the climax as an emotional breakthrough, whether it will stick). In the book he obsesses throughout about his American employer's expectation for some form of "bantering," a practice he is deeply uncomfortable with as it is both informal and (more to the point, I think) requires a state of emotional easy-goingness that he finds both professionally distatefull and personally difficult. (It's pretty much the antithesis of "dignity" as he's heretofore defined that term.) He resolves, upon returning to Darlington Hall, to "work" at improving his bantering, and this, too, raises a host of possibilities. Is he intellectualizing (another avoidance strategy)? Earlier he said he read books to improve his vocabularly. Here he speculates that perhaps he could carefully study and imitate the television for clues on how to "banter." Is this an almost immediate retreat into old patterns or is it an indication that he is taking baby-steps towards enacting a goal, willing to start on a new path of continued development even though it is late in the proverbial day and it would be easy enough to simply bide out his time in an arrested state?

The ending of the film, to me, doesn't have that tension of ambiguity. The penultimate shot, of the shutter closing, is much more explcitly pessimisstic, connoting that he has returned to the cage and is shutting doors, emotional and literal, forever. [i have had students argue for an optimistic reading of the ending, suggesting the bird is a symbol of Stevens and his freeing it a symbolic or hopeful image. I'm not totally against that reading, but I find it unconvincing.]

So how would I handle the end of the film? I honestly don't know. Somehow some small talk about the telly show with Christopher Reeve probably wasn't going to work. And while I don't object to a pessimistic reading of the end, I'd be more satisfied with one that was a bit more cryptic and suggested a possibility for either growth or death. Perhaps Reeve could make a joke or dig about Stevens's rendevouz with his "girlfriend" to which Stevens could give a bantering but emotionally honest or revealing reply...hard to say. Translation to another medium is so difficult.

So, anyway, all that is left is for you to write me a 6 page research paper, run it through turnitin.com, and send a tuition check to the Distance Ed. office of Campbell University for three hours of undergraduate credit. (oh, yeah, and read Emma, Hard Times, Heart of Darkness, The End of the Affair, and The Fifth Child and post on each). [Yes, I'm kidding.]

(And you might want to save this post as one that could very easily get deleted. The last think I need is some actual scholar to come in here and reveal how totally igorant I am and how shameful it is that someone actually gave me a degree considering how stupid I am...and academics are just the type to do it.)(Then again, I might need to leave it so that any high schoolers tempted to plagiarize it might be assured that turnitin.com's search engines would find it and bust them.)

Peace.

Ken

P.S. I love Ishiguro's prose. He conveys such complexity of emotion and situation with language that is so simple and unpretentious.

P.P.S. I think cutting the deleted scene that was mentioned is just fine. It may have been in the book, but as I say, Stevens is not a reliable narrator, so I'm not sure it matters. I don't remember that scene in the book, though there is one (which I remember in the film) where one of the guests asks if he is crying on (I think) the night his father died.

P.P.P.S. I'm reminded of a (perhaps apocraphyl?) comment that either Merchant or Ivory (or maybe even Jhabvala) was supposed to have made about how unlucky they felt that Lean, with his studio money, was able to snag the rights to Passage to India, forcing them to have to settle for lesser material. Their version of Passage is one of those great movies that never got made that I would love to have seen, if for no other reason than I was pretty disatsfied with the Lean version and have wondered how "filmable" it was, given that significant portions of it's plot reside in amibiguity and uncertainty.

P.P.P.P.S. My obvious love for this film made my experience of the White Countess all the more disappointing. Then again, perhaps my hopes/expectations were too high. In a post Phantom Menace world, it is so very rare that I allow myself to get my hopes up in anticipation of any film.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What an essay! Thanks Ken. I've not read the book, but remember the film as one I got from the library several times. To this day I really don't understand why I like this film so much - I am definitely in the group of people who watch movies for fun, and avoid sad or depressing stories. Yet I was drawn to this one repeatedly, and would watch it again given the opportunity. I love the acting, the slow build of the tension, the setting. I'm not put off by the overall sadness, or the ambiguity of the ending. I still puzzle about what it "means" as a story, and why it impacts me so.

On a side note, after enjoying Remains of the Day, I tried out the other Hopkins/Thompson project from the same period - Howards End - and hated it. Hated it, I say.

B

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

On a side note, after enjoying Remains of the Day, I tried out the other Hopkins/Thompson project from the same period - Howards End - and hated it. Hated it, I say.

B

Great. Its next in my Netflix queue. After "His Girl Friday", I think, the only one of Cary Grant's movies left that my wife hasn't made me watch already.

:spoilers: :spoilers: :spoilers:

So, anyway, all that is left is for you to write me a 6 page research paper, run it through turnitin.com, and send a tuition check to the Distance Ed. office of Campbell University for three hours of undergraduate credit. (oh, yeah, and read Emma, Hard Times, Heart of Darkness, The End of the Affair, and The Fifth Child and post on each). [Yes, I'm kidding.]

Ken, I'll need to chew over this post awhile. As Bill M. said, some very nice thoughts there.

Regarding the paper and tuition check, gladly do so if you would kindly purchase a case or two of Swiffer Wet and WetJet*. I'll need the additional profit sharing to cover any tuition monies that are not in categories covered by my employer (business, chemistry, law, or engineering). Thanks!

*And if you don't like them, you're probably using them incorrectly. ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

On a side note, after enjoying Remains of the Day, I tried out the other Hopkins/Thompson project from the same period - Howards End - and hated it. Hated it, I say.

B

Great. Its next in my Netflix queue. After "His Girl Friday", I think, the only one of Cary Grant's movies left that my wife hasn't made me watch already.

I loved the film when it came out, got it through Peerflix this Summer and was restless in revisiting it.

Not to sound like the lit. guy, but it is one that I do think knowing the book first helps. Which is weird, normally if I've read the book first, it increases the likelihood that I'll be disatisfied with the film because of changes or differing interpretations. A lot of stuff that's written in an internal voice or focusing on interior lives (James Joyce's "The Dead," Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, most Forster) can strike me as maddeningly opaque when on screen. Stuff that makes me go, "of course!" in the course of reading often makes me go, "huh? why'd he do that?" on screen.

But every now and then a good writer/director will take material that's largely interior and make it work on screen.

Peace.

Ken

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I recently saw both of those movies (HE and ROTD), and I liked both. HE was a more difficult adaptation I think, it has so many disparate elements that it struggles for a genre. Now I need to read both books.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

For what it's worth, Ken, I would love to have you as a professor, if your words here and elsewhere on the board are anything to go by.

I read the book a few months ago, and absolutely loved it. What a heartbreaking story about a life strewn with regrets. It made me want to be more honest and even vulnerable in my own life.

I finally saw the movie version this week. Very good adaptation. The ending didn't quite work for me though, and I think you did a good job of analyzing why (lack of ambiguity). The book also ended with what I thought was a very ccompelling image (Stevens sitting on the beach next to Brighton pier, watching the fireworks display)-- I was sorry not to see it in the film.


Kent Brockman: Now, here are the results from our phone-in poll. 95% of the people think Homer Simpson is guilty. Of course, this is just a television poll, which is not legally binding. Unless Proposition 304 passes, and we all pray it will.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't seen ROTD in years - maybe since it was in theaters - but it still stands out in my personal top 100. It is just about perfect. It's really a brilliant marriage of a personal, intimate story; a study of a particular socio-political backdrop/time in history; and a Big Story about the human condition. The book in on my husband's shelf, but I haven't yet read it. Maybe I will and then see the movie again.

As for Howard's End...meh. There was a lot going on, as I recall, and I couldn't really attach to any of the elements.


Sara Zarr

author, person.

sarazarr.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala passed away Wednesday, at age 85. She won Academy Awards for her adaptations of both A Room with a View, and Howard's End, and was nominated for The Remains of the Day (she lost to Steve Zallian's adaptation of Schindler's List).

Edited by John Drew

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I taught the novel in British novel this semester and we discussed it in my Social Distancing Book Club (we're starting The Left Hand of Darkness if anyone wants to join us), so I thought it would be a good time to revisit the film. 

It's such a strange mix of good and bad. I've always been a little sour on the ending, which I think is far more pessimistic than it the book. And the decision to have Stephens actually enter the room and find Miss Kenton crying before she leaves, while defensible is, in my opinion, a bad one. It's impossible to know, but I wonder if these are issues with RBJ's screenplay or instructions that were given to her. (Ivory makes some questionable direction choices, too, such as following Darlington rather than Stephens after the scene where he instructs Stephens to fire the Jewish maids, and following Lizzie into the hall after she gives her notice. (Oh, and it's Lena Headey!)

I enjoy the film and appreciate the performances, but the older that I get, the more I become the guy who says "the book was better." 

That last scene with Christopher Reeve, though, where he reminisces about his youth and "standing up" and giving speech, is fraught now with knowledge of what comes after. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...