If... | Film Review


Before becoming wildly known for his role as Alex in A Clockwork Orange, Malcom McDowell played the even more daring and controversial character of Mick in Lindsay Anderson's 1968 film, 'If...'

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Set in an English boarding-school in the late sixties, If... showcases the abruptness of the British school-system and the country as a whole. The film follows the life of Mick Travis and his mates living under the authority and rules set by a group of conservative individuals following old tradition and law. It shows throughout the film that religion has an important impact on their daily lives, as they attend church and participate in daily prayer.
   The conflict occurs when Mick and his friends disagree with living a frigid and authoritative life, and therefore begin to rebel against the regulations of the academy. Anderson uses his brilliant cinematography skills to shine a light on the brutality and barbaric rituals of the school system, while giving voice to the world's frustrated youth, empowering the punk movement (circa late 1970's through the 1990's) in the process.

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If you thought West Side Story and Psycho were the only films to really define the 60s', think again. If you ask me, If... is the king of revolutionary films. Mick, Wallace and Johnny all have many moments of complete and utter anarchy, and because of this, they were the first to have a real taste of freedom and life. We get to see inside the lives of these three characters and try to understand them as they go through life at the academy ― following the strict beliefs and rules set by those above them. If anyone fails to follow the rules of the school, you get reprimanded. And, if you decide to rebel against the rebuke, they will most likely give you a much stricter punishment.
   The rebellious students focused on in If... represent the rebels in our society's youth: fighting against what is expected, and fighting for what they want to do (i.e. have fun, laugh, get drunk, get high, have sex, etc.).
   “When do we live? That's what I want to know.” Mick Travis, in particular, is a character who rebelled against the rules from the beginning. He had long hair and a moustache, and refused to follow the dress code. You see Mick breaking out of the school every now and then to infringe, and have a sense of freedom and youth. Mick Travis is the definition of anarchy, and I love it.

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If you haven't yet seen the unreal and brilliant café scene, well, you're missing out. Mick and his mate break out of the academy and go to a café where they meet a waitress, whose name wasn't mentioned. Mick shows interest in her but she seemed very frigid toward him. Just as Sanctus by Missa Luba begins to play in the background, the waitress walks up to Mick and says: “Go on. Look at me. I'll kill you. Look at my eyes. Sometimes, I stand in front of the mirror, and my eyes get bigger and bigger. And I'm like a tiger. I like tigers.” They then proceed to act as tigers do ― clawing and roaring, jumping at and on top of each other nude. It gives me chills just thinking about it.
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   The first time watching If..., I realized that some scenes were in colour and some in black and white. Being the kind of girl I am, I immediately thought each scene was carefully chosen to either be filmed in black and white or colour, depending on what mood the scene was supposed to give, and that the changes between black and white and colour signify the multiple layers of reality. For example, the café scene (mentioned earlier) may have been filmed in black and white to give off a very mysterious feeling, leaving the viewer watching to decipher whether it even happened, or if it was just a fallacy of Mick's imagination. After further research, I've discovered that this was not the case. When they were filming the chapel scenes, they were working on a tight schedule and a limited budget. Lighting the chapel for colour would have would have taken longer and been more expensive than lighting it for black and white. Anderson decided that he liked it so much that he shot other scenes in black and white too. Some would argue the change between black and white and colour throughout the film makes it look unprofessional, but I personally think it adds a certain depth to it.

The film ends rather violently, and that is most likely the reason why it is seen as a very controversial film. “One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place.” The film then fades to black and the words “If...” appear on the black surface. It is a very strong and chilling film that will stick with you long after you've seen it.

If you liked If... as much as I did, I would recommend watching the sequel, O Lucky Man!