"A revolution lead by pupil Mick Travis takes place at an old established private school in England"
I have been wanting to see this film for about 8 years now. The lack of an easy to find vhs and no dvd made this a difficult find but finally thanks to Criterion I was able to see it after the long wait and it was worth it. I think that if I would have seen this film 8 years ago i would have not have appreciated it as much as I would have now.
I always thought that If.... was a film about a student rebelling and shooting up his school. I first heard about it when a couple of news reports mentioned it after the Columbine school massacre and since then I have been curious to see it. I don't know what those news reporters were talking about because this film is not about a guy shooting up his school. Sure, there is a scene like that but it is much more complicated and doesn't warrant a simple description of "this guy shoots up his school" Why I say this is because the film is heavily surreal and heavily layered. This is a point that I had never ever heard or read about.
I believe that surrealism is a very tough thing to pull off. Sometimes it works and it pulls you into the film and sometimes it just pulls you straight out of the film and looks...well...stupid. However, If.... falls perfectly into the first category. You are given enough information to be able to understand when the film is being surrealistic and when it is not. It is also refreshing to see that the surreal parts don't rely on heavy symbolism to portray some kind of theme or message. Instead in If.... we just get the basic jist as to why it is being surrealistic and we just have fun with the odd images that are being presented.
The film is not entirely all surrealism though. This only plays a small but significant part in the overall story. When the film is grounded in reality we also get one of the most rebellious films ever made. A kind of film that really does make you cheer when it reaches its infamous conclusion. Lindsay Anderson does a great job at creating this very hostile and intense atmosphere though out the film that when 2 students are able to "break out" for a couple of minutes you really get a true sense of freedom that is unlike any other feeling that I have ever experienced before while seeing a film. This is some very brilliant stuff.
So if you add all this plus some very interesting gay subtext to the film, dark comedy, and support it all with an amazing lead performance by Malcom McDowell you get one of the most interesting and rebellious films ever made. Amazing stuff for sure.