#94. Peter Ibbetson (1935)

Fuck I hate these.

Or not hate them, not all of them. Not entirely. Peter Ibbetson, like Camille and Queen Christina before it, is a perfectly adequate movie, with solid acting and production value and — credit where it’s due — a distinctly melancholic and tragically romantic vibe, but there’s some evasive quality about these period romances in general that makes them feel fucking eternal. I guess it’s because we, the audience, know that the movie’s intrigue hinges on two possible outcomes: happily ever after, or not. But aren’t slasher movies (which I like quite a bit) kind of the same thing? Either the heroine will live, or we’ll get some nihilistic ending (like The Strangers, in 2009, which allegedly takes its name from Camus’s novel and, reflecting an existentialist notion of horror, ends with its killers saying, when asked by the heroine why she was targeted, “Because you were home”), where everybody dies and the audience walks out miserable. Maybe with slasher movies I prefer that ultimatum because it’s comparatively visceral. More engaging.

peter ibbetson
Think I would’ve preferred to see a movie about the kids coping with their new circumstances.

But I guess I’m also turned off by how quaint these movies are. That kisses are “stolen,” lovers appease their carnal longing with nothing more than a sweeping embrace, and of course everybody regards love and marriage as the most crucial things in life. Perhaps the fact that the movies are all set in the distant past helps give life to this delusion. Rare is the mention of work, of where to get dinner, and we never se typical relationship quarrels about stupid shit like who does the dishes tonight, or why hast thou forsaken me a fortnight’s coitus without even the advances of thine hand? It just seems like an insultingly stupid simplification of love, of romance, whatever.

The lovers here are Gary Cooper, who plays the eponymous Peter, and Ann Harding as his eternal love interest. They’re neighbors as kids, they seem to love each other despite constant fights about what to do with their toys, and then they’re separated after Peter’s mom dies. They reunite later in life, fortuitously, and again they’re combative, Mary telling Peter (not an architect) how to play with his toys. But they also still love each other. One thing leads to another, Peter’s accused of murder, they’re separated. We’ve seen this kinda thing before — not just in the characters’ own lives, but in every other movie of its sort.

What’s different in Peter Ibbetson is that when the lovers are separated (for the second time), they’re separated forever. They continue to meet each other int heir dreams at night, though their bodies are miles apart, and eventually they die of old age. It’s fucking miserable. There’s even a sadistic prison scene where Peter is tortured. (Alfred Hitchcock said in an interview, arguing that people actually being shocked by things like Psycho, that he’s instructed by the frequency with which he’ll hear a woman say of a movie she’s enjoyed, “It was so beautiful, I had a good cry.” He goes on to puzzle over the distinction: what distinguishes a good cry from a bad one when it comes to moviegoing?)

It’s an interesting concept, and I know that it’s based on a novel (which I haven’t read), but it feels like just that: a concept, something better-suited for like a short story by Ray Bradbury than a two-hour movie.

But, again, can’t we say that of most slasher movies?

Ahdunno. Fuck it. These period romances put me in a bitter mood. Especially when I finish it, write something up (which is always a struggle since I have so little to say about em), and realize there’s a fuck ton of them left on the List. but I also realize that I’m not doing myself any favors by bringing this grudge into each coming installment in the genre. it’s a genre I fear I’ll never understand.


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