Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Field in England (2013)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Spoiler-Free Summary

In the middle of a Civil War skirmish in a 17th century English countryside, a trio of deserters inadvertently band together as they flee the nearby carnage. One of the men is an apprentice for a missing alchemist, and he convinces the other two soldiers to search for his predecessor, who had gone missing in that same field some time in the past.

After ingesting some mushrooms with hallucinogenic properties, the two soldiers begin to confuse fantasy with reality, as they are led to find the former apprentice and search for a hidden cache of gold somewhere in the field. Various forms of madness and paranoia occur as the group interacts with each other and other characters, who may or may not be illusory.

Still Spoiler-Free Opinion

Did I Like It?

There are some films that leave you wondering whether you actually enjoyed them or not. A Field in England is one of those for me, even though it's now been about two weeks since I watched it.

There's no doubt that it does leave you guessing throughout, trying to piece together the varied, suspicious, and tantalizingly vague stories that the alchemist's apprentice is foisting on the soldiers. And there is the McGuffin of the buried treasure, which will leave any viewer wondering just what it is that the men are searching for.

The tale grows more twisted and confounding as
the various characters lead, follow, and manipulate
each other for reasons that are oddly frightening
for their lack of clarity.
The telling of the tale, though, can be dizzying, to say the least. Presumably by design, there is a fair amount of incoherence in the story once the mushrooms are taken. There are many jump cuts, disorienting camera angles, and general confusion about who is who and what, exactly, they are looking for and why. Every so often, the film sobers up for a moment and you feel some sense of clarity, but these moments become more fleeting as the tale progresses. Despite all of my questions, though, I mostly felt that there was something I, as a viewer, was missing, rather than something that the director had overlooked. Things are presented with a confidence and control that give the impression of internal logic, even if I couldn't completely wrap my head around all of it. This is to say nothing of the very heavy British accents and colloquial idioms, which can sometimes be a challenge to fully comprehend, even for one who rarely has trouble comprehending thick accents.

This likely sounds like a very masochistic viewing experience, but I assure you that it wasn't. The performances are outstanding, and there is actually some solid humor sprinkled into the dialogue. The levity is welcome, as most of my energy was spent on puzzling things out.

If nothing else, A Field in England leaves an impression. It's unlike any film I've ever seen, and offers hints at many darker, much more mysterious things lurking beneath its ever-shifting surface. It's these unknown components that offer me the intrigue that I enjoy in many tales, even if my curiosity is not completely satisfied by story's end. But this is exactly what is special about this movie - it leaves itself open to multiple interpretations. If you're willing to put in the mental energy these require and don't mind the ambiguity.