PG, but is it really? This is the most controversial PG I can imagine because, in England, it was rated X. Yeah. That's a big jump from PG. The thing is, it isn't deserving of either rating. Honestly, this is just a solid R. There's nudity and sex, which automatically makes it an R-rated movie in my book. But also, it's insanely blasphemous. It's trying to get a rise out of the audience. But in terms of tone and overt vulgarity, it's pretty mild. But I'm not the one doing the ratings for these movies, now am I?
DIRECTOR: Peter Medak
They're going to take my Criterion card away from me, you know that, right? I'm going to not appreciate enough works of art that someone is going to raise even more of a stink and then they won't let me watch Criterion movies anymore. My views on this movie are really an issue, too. One: I'm deeply influenced by a lifetime of Catholicism. Not all of that is rosy. Heck, I don't even know how I feel right now about it. But that is something that is fundamentally me and I can't help but look at a movie trying to get a rise out of me as somewhat childish. The other thing is that I'm not in the least bit British.
Trust me: being an Anglophile doesn't cut it. This movie is for the British. It wasn't made for me, despite the fact that I still glom onto some of the more universal themes. But I am definitely playing the spectator on British satire here. Our aristocracy is night and day different from what it means to be British upper crust in 1972. So I'm already coming from more of an appreciation-perspective rather than something that is innate to my culture. I'm giving all of these excuses for my ambivalence. It's just that this kind of stuff kind of annoys me. I don't mind criticisms of religion. I honestly don't. Considering that Mike Flanagan stuff never really affected me, his work with Midnight Mass was life-changing. (I might be the only one to ever say that, but I completely approved of it.) The Ruling Class is about hypocrisy. While, as an American, it is easy to say that this is either about religious hypocrisy or cultural hypocrisy, there's something very intimate about those two subsections of British life. Considering that the Church of England is both a political and a spiritual force, The Ruling Class is an outright attack on both.
But my complaint comes from the notion that there is no nuance to religion. It also seems pretty flippant on the whole notion of mental health. Okay, I'm really high horsing the whole thing right now because that's not the point. I have to remember that this is satire. But the movie has a really damning look at mental health services and religion. Sure, the antagonists of the film are the Gurneys, who are simply using Jack for the family name. But the concept of Jack getting better is poo-pooed throughout the film. Jack as JC is joyful. His mental health is considered whimsical and fun. Because he thinks of himself as the god of love, Jack sees the world in a way that is juxtaposed to the stodgy Gurney clan. But Jack is deeply unhealthy in many ways. He doesn't have relationships. He's under the impression that he is happy, but he's this element of chaos in everyone's lives. While the Gurneys have selfish reasons for involving mental health professionals when it comes to Jack, the actual action of getting therapist involved is a healthy one.
It's just that everyone in the world of The Ruling Class (which I suppose is the point) is awful. Even Dr. Herder, who is possibly more sympathetic than the other characters in the story, still tries to use Jack for his own professional goals. It's the scene where Jack goes against the god of electricity that Herder becomes this unlikable character. (Oddly enough, this decision to risk Jack's life is what ultimately "cures" him from Herder's perspective. I am really lost on the god of electricity showdown. The film presents an absurd premise, but one that is grounded in a set of rules. Jack clearly can't be God because he has this history that we're all aware of. He consistently fails when it comes to performing miracles. This is the world of reality, which is why Medak paints it in such a morose, blah way. But when the god of energy fights against Jack, there's literal lightning pouring out of his fingertips. I suppose that I have an answer for that based on Medak's precedent.
Jack views his miracles as successes. When Jack is given the task to levitate the table, he does so in his mind. He sees the table floating while everyone else is just left disappointed. But I don't know if this is a one-for-one thing with the god of electricity. Things in the room genuinely react to the interaction with the god of electricity. (God, I seem so petty right now.)
But I do really applaud what comes out of the emergence of the Jack persona. I read the movie as this story of the sadness that comes with sanity. When the god of love is stripped from Jack, I simply thought we'd see the overwhelming depressing elements of what reality has to offer. But instead, Jack is never actually cured of his madness. Instead, he becomes Jack the Ripper and that persona is far more interesting as a satirical vessel than the god of love. The god of love is unable to comment on the corruption of the ruling class. He is disinterested, so he has no real opinions on it besides being beneath him. But Jack the Ripper has active scorn for the aristocracy and those beneath him. When we look through the Ripper's eyes, we see his disdain for humanity and how much joy he gets from his sense of privilege that is afforded to the 14th Earl of Gurney. It's just handing Jack the Ripper that knife to gut the country. And Jack the Ripper serves to be this quintessential commentary on hypocrisy. As the ruling class talks about the poor morals of the newest generation, we see them all harbor absolutely abhorrent perspectives on things. Jack, holding onto this secret murderous rage, typifies the problem with the upper crust: they see themselves outside goodness and evil. That's where it really works.
While it is fun to see Peter O'Toole as the god of love, the movie only really picks up when JC is purged from the film in exchange for Jack the Ripper. Pun intended, but that's when the movie goes for the jugular. That's when Peter Medak really sells the message he's trying to get across. When he's commenting on the stupidity of religion, it just seems petty. But when he is looking at the people in power, there's a fear there that makes the story worth telling.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.