By Craig Joseph
I encountered this gem during an E.M. Forster reading binge as a junior in high school. (The fact that I had an E.M. Forster phase explains why I had no girlfriend, leaving more time for obsessions with obscure novelists.) This was my first brush with a comedy of manners and, besides codifying my desire to act (thanks to the brilliant characterizations turned in by Maggie Smith, Daniel Day Lewis and the cast), the film also instilled a love of anything clever enough to mock society’s foibles and still remain instructive. Identifying with almost every character in the movie, I found A Room with a View to be a cautionary tale, one that still makes me laugh at the TV screen – and my own reflection in it.
What I Learned From:
Cecil Vyse: “People are more important than things.” I remember a late-night conversation with a buddy in which we bemoaned the fact that we had walls lined with art, dressers lined with trophies, and accolades for all of our achievements – but that we had no friends. The priggish and disdainful Cecil reminds me that one can’t love the products of humanity without loving individual humans – in all their crudeness and frailty. When I’m tempted to turn my nose up (as those who accuse me of elitism know I can do), I’m reminded of Cecil’s brilliantly inept first kiss with Lucy, hampered by his damned prince-nez, and encouraged to seek out true intimacy and connection with others, rather than hiding behind books and art. (Note: my own first kiss was tragically similar; her earlobe has never been the same.)
Charlotte Bartlett: “Martyrdom gets you nowhere, and it’s annoying as hell.” My biggest laughs still come whenever the dowager cousin proclaims how unimportant her own needs are, while guilting everyone into fulfilling them. I love the extended sequence seeking change to pay a driver, which results in the moneyed folks borrowing from the servant just to shut Charlotte up. I’m ashamed to admit I’m like her (though there are worse fates than being Dame Maggie). I act as though it’s not polite to ask for what I want, but that it’s then acceptable to passive-aggressively resent others for not being able to read my mind. I know. Crazy. Paging Dr. Freud. This movie chastens me.
Lucy Honeychurch: “My brain lies to my heart.” The sequence of “Lucy lies” in the last half hour is an acting tour de force, with Helena Bonham Carter’s every look, gesture and sigh working counter to the words coming out of her mouth. It forces me to ask how often the same is true of myself. I’m my own worst enemy where following passion – be it romantic, vocational or otherwise – is concerned, and the rationale I use to “talk myself down” from what I intensely desire is often laughable. But it’s also destructive; the less I heed the passions inside me, the less realized I am as me: a bad friend, an inattentive lover, a grumpy family member and an uninspired worker. And so, it’s sometimes important for me to turn my thinking faculty off and get carried away by Merchant Ivory films in lush locations with sumptuous costumes and happy endings.