9. A PASSAGE TO INDIA
(1984, Written by David Lean, based on the novel of the same name by E.M. Forster)
So often at the end of their career (and often, also, near the end of their life), great directors sought to make films that were almost a summation of their earlier films. Like Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander or Renoir’s The River, David Lean’s A Passage To India is a classic example of this process, all the more so as it was Lean’s first major film in nearly 14 years, after the mixed critical reception that Ryan’s Daughter had received.
A Passage To India brings together so many of Lean’s classic interests and themes: an exotic setting, in colonial India; an individual facing a crisis (in this case, a young woman who has been attacked and nearly raped, but then finds that the wrong man has been accused of the crime); and above all the juxtaposition of those two elements, as the individual attempts to make sense of the strange new world in which they find themselves.
Incidentally, A Passage To India was the first major film based on a novel by E.M. Forster, but it was far from the last; A Room With A View was released the following year by the Merchant-Ivory team, who subsequently filmed most of Forster’s major novels, including Maurice and Howard’s End. But it was Lean who got there first, translating into cinema Forster’s literary mantra, “Only connect” (the epigram of Howard’s End), to show how the essence of cinema was to compel viewers somehow to connect with the most extraordinary and even apparently unsympathetic characters and situations. He had done so throughout his career, with characters such as Alec Guinness’s Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge On The River Kwai or Peter O’Toole’s obsessive T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, and did so again in A Passage To India at the very end of his career.