Without getting into the whys and wherefores, it appears to be a heartbreakingly tragic fact of American life that the phenomenon of school shootings is not going to go away any time soon. Despite that, it’s always struck me as odd that although people have fallen over themselves trying to find scapegoats to blame, with video games usually being the ignorant’s favourite, that nobody to my knowledge has ever brought up Lindsay Anderson’s radical 1968 drama as something rather prescient. I’m not for one minute suggesting it’s ever had any kind of influence on these awful events, but watching it now you wonder if such a film would even get released these days. No wonder it was given an X certificate when it first came out.

Riding the crest of the countercultural wave the 60s generated, this is essentially an attempt to capture the violent fantasies that come about from repressive, stifling conditions in a British boarding school. It’s a strange, arty film, although perhaps not as clever as many think it is (the way it seems to casually switch between colour and black-and-white was heralded as a bold artistic choice when it first came out, but we now know this was down to a pragmatic problem of not having enough time to light certain scenes for colour shooting). It does liberally splash scenes of surrealism though, seemingly borrowing a great deal from the French film Zero for Conduct, currently in the public domain and viewable in its entirety here.

So this is an odd movie in many ways, but it’s a relatively rare example of a British film that eschews a lot of convention and aims for something a little more experimental, beyond kitchen-sink social realism, lightweight romantic comedies or sumptuous costume dramas. It wears its allegorical ideas plainly on its sleeve, and it’s worth checking out O Lucky Man! – a sort of quasi-sequel made by the same director and featuring the same lead – for more of the same. But it’s also worth thinking about its themes of violence as a response to perceived oppression a little bit, especially in light of what we see in the news these days, hopefully providing a little more understanding and insight into the minds of troubled youth.

Tragic relevance to modern-day events9
Counter-cultural "fuck the man" ideas, dated though they are8
Surreal, slightly pretentious artistic choices5
Refreshingly experimental for a British film though8
An attempt, even if not entirely successful, to understand why school kids sometimes fantasise about killing their teachers8
Bechdel Test Passes
  • n/a
Bechdel Test Failures
  • I can only think of a couple of female characters, and I don't think they had names
8Overall Score

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