Sunday, May 1, 2011

Don't Make a Scene: Ryan's Daughter

The Set-Up: A scene of confusion, honesty and decency from David Lean's next-to-last film, his much-maligned, but fairly amazing Ryan's Daughter.  Not sure why this scene struck such a chord with me at the time I finally got around to watching it.  Pehaps it's the acting of Robert Mitchum and Trevor Howard, who are both terrific in this movie.  Perhaps its the humility and the simple language that is used.

Perhaps it talked to me for it depicts a man in crisis who looked for answers without bothering to change his clothes.  Who went to nature (in this case the all-surrounding seashore) to find answers, perhaps his own oblivion, in the constancy of the shifting tide, and walked away choosing an uncertain, confusing life over a sure death.  And of a priest who has lost one of his flock and is just earthy enough to know the issues that plague the man.

But, it's also one of those prime examples of Lean film-making: his placement of figures in a landscape.  The players of Ryan's Daughter are immersed by a landscape that constantly shifts and moves, shaped by the sea that surrounds the town of Killary and a political climate that is also changing.  At the beginning of the scene, Father Hugh is searching the rocky shoreline for the town's missing teacher, not knowing if he'll find him alive or dead or at all.  And as his perspective shifts with the rocks line his path, he finds Shaughnessy hidden in the rocks, gazing out at sea.  A slow tracking shot reveals the human figure where previously all he saw was coastline.  Lean only moves closer when the men engage in conversation.

It's a scene of economy, poignancy, a bit o' humor and an exceeding amount of something in short supply at the movies these days: grace.

The Story: Rosie Ryan (Sarah Miles) has married a man she has much admired, the elder village teacher Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum).  Dissatisfied with her marriage, she begins an affair with a young major (Christopher Jones), and has left her marriage bed to meet him at dawn.  Shaughnessy sees them and in his pain, goes to the ocean's edge contemplating the horizon.  His absence soon becomes apparent to the village and crusty Father Hugh (Trevor Howard) goes out to find what he can of Charles Shaughnessy.


FATHER HUGH:  Uh...Hello, Charles.
SHAUGHNESSY: Hello, Father.

FATHER HUGH: I brought your clothes.

SHAUGHNESSY: Oh, thanks, Father.  I was wondering how I'd get home.

FATHER HUGH: ...And something to drink.
SHAUGHNESSY:  More thanks.



FATHER HUGH: You seem alright, man.
SHAUGHNESSY: More or less. I'll get dressed now.


FATHER HUGH: He'll be out catching a few flounders.


FATHER HUGH: So, what've you been doing down here, Charles?
SHAUGHNESSY: Oh...thinkin'
FATHER HUGH: About Rosy?
SHAUGHNESSY: About meself, mostly.

SHAUGHNESSY: Thanks for the clothes.

SHAUGHNESSY: You're a man in a million, Fr. Hugh.

Ryan's Daughter

Words by Robert Bolt

Pictures by Freddie Young and David Lean

Ryan's Daughter is available on DVD from M-G-M Home Video.

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