Malcolm McDowell’s first screen role was in this pseudo-update to Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct, directed by Lindsay Anderson. If… is a solidly British film, and indeed came in 9th in Time Out’s recent poll of the best British films of all time. After seeing it, I couldn’t help but ask what it was about this that made it so iconic and lasting. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but I could recognize that it was there. Maybe it just spoke to a disenfranchised generation of British youths, or provided an outlet to those who’d lived in such a setting in real life; I don’t know, but there’s something here, that’s for sure.
McDowell is Mick Travis, one of the older students at a totalitarian boarding school. He and his friends are not quite the top rung on the school’s hierarchy ladder, and thus they are frequently berated verbally and abusively by the Whips of the school (those at the top), as well as the staff. The film is thus a portrait of life in this oppressive regime state, until the boys finally boil over and the film rushes headlong to its climax. This has much in common with many other list films. It’s not really a film about plot, but rather a film made to capture an experience and mindset, even if it is a fictitious one. Of course, having never grown up in an English boarding school, most of the satire on display here went over my head a little, but I was still able to get some enjoyment out of it. As for the technicals, they were pretty standard, with two exceptions. For one, the film frequently switches between color film and black-and-white, pretty much at random and with no underlying reason or pattern to it; my suspicions are that the film simply ran out of budget for color film and had to finish with black-and-white reels. The other is the music, which was especially haunting and eerie, particularly in the film’s more surreal sequences.
I couldn’t help but feel that this had one major thing in common with Carrie, and if you ether remember that review or go check it out you’ll know I wasn’t particularly appreciative of this aspect; it seemed to all be there just as a lead up to the climax of the film. Now, If… has one thing that Carrie didn’t; substance outside the big climactic sequence. There’s a whole layer of subtext underneath the entire film, and the film itself juggles a number of different options in terms of story and presentation, so there’s quite a bit to be found here. All in all, though, since most of it was lost on me, I couldn’t help but feel that the film was a little too long and protracted. This is probably a more personal rating than it is overarching, but it’s where I ended up, so take of it what you will. I did like this one, for what it’s worth, but it just ended up not being my cup of tea, so to speak.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10