(VOD) My wife recently sent me a link to a gothic test tube greenhouse that immediately prompted a flashback to the glass cathedral featured in Gillian Armstrong’s adaptation of OSCAR AND LUCINDA.
Apart from SID AND NANCY, I recall OSCAR AND LUCINDA as one of the first films I saw where I recognized: ‘Oh, this is a romantic drama about two people that feed their worst impulses and would’ve been better off never meeting each other.’
If you aren’t familiar with the film, it’s the story of Oscar and Lucinda, two gambling addicts in the mid-1800s who find each other and immediately orbit one another. Oscar (Ralph Fiennes) is a priest very adept at gambling but, to ease his guilt, he gives all his winnings — apart from what he needs to live — away. Lucinda (Cate Blanchett) is a forthright woman and adept gambler who has vast resources thanks to inheriting her parents’ glass factory. Oscar is discovered as a gambler while betting on cards with Lucinda and is consequentially ostracized. Lucinda wants to help get him back on his feet by building a giant glass cathedral, which Oscar will then oversee by taking his religion to Africa. (One can’t help but compare this venture to Herzog’s FITZCARRALDO.)
The film has a persistent voice-over (via Geoffrey Rush) that, unlike most voice-overs, has a welcome purpose. Regarding Lucinda, the unseen person states:
“Lucinda’s mother knew she had produced a proud square peg, in the full knowledge that, from coast-to-coast, there were nothing but round holes.” The film doubles back to this description by having Oscar later confess to Lucinda: “I do not fit, I know that.”
The film is chock full of similar callbacks and repeated, often unsubtle, visual symbolism that wouldn’t work if not for the combination of Fiennes and Blanchett’s costume design, brilliant camera and production work — every scene on a boat manages to exceptionally convey both the thrill and anxiety of traveling by water — and Armstrong’s command of tone.
I’ll note that, upon rewatching the film, there’s rape scene that I certainly did not remember. It’s not there to be shocking or exploitative, as it’s in the film for a reason, but I was shocked that I had forgotten about it.