Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

Film Review: A Passage to India (Redux)

Chopstick Cinema

"India forces one to come face to face with oneself."--Dame Peggy Ashcroft (as Mrs. Moore, A Passage to India)

Social, cultural, and political tensions are the centerpiece of this epic, in which Miss Adela Quested, a naïve young Englishwoman, travels with the elderly Mrs. Moore, her mother-in-law-to-be, to join her fiancé, Ronny Heaslop, a magistrate in colonial India. Soon after their arrival, while visiting a mosque on the night of a full moon, Mrs. Moore makes the acquaintance of Aziz Ahmed, an affable young Muslim doctor. The bond of friendship between them is instantaneous, and it isn't long before Aziz hatches a plan to take Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested on an excursion to visit the mysterious Marabar Caves.

Aziz spares no expense in providing all the amenities for a lavish picnic, which even includes a ride on an elaborately-painted elephant from the train station to the caves. But his best intentions go awry when Aziz and Miss Quested leave the picnic party to explore the higher caves, and in a moment overwrought emotion brought on by the intense echo and cavernous darkness, Adela flees in hysterics. The following day, she files charges against Aziz for attempted rape.

Act II focuses on the trial of Aziz, which has divided the city between the locals who support him, and the British, who side with Miss Quested. The inner circle of Aziz is divided as well, with his friends Richard Fielding and Mrs. Moore being his sole British supporters, while their affiliation with Miss Quested would seem to indicate otherwise. And when the verdict is handed down, life as they know it will have changed forever.

Based on the novel by E.M. Forster, and directed by epic mastermind David Lean, A Passage to India is yet another jewel in his crown, which includes Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. As with his other films, A Passage to India juxtaposes the nuances of relationships between the characters with the cinematic grandeur of the setting, embracing the inevitabilities of microcosm versus macrocosm.

And the characters, although archetypal, are uniquely individual; with Miss Quested (Judy Davis) representing sexual naiveté, Aziz (Victor Banerjee) is sincerity and youthful optimism, Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers) is arrogance and entitlement, Richard Fielding (James Fox) is social conscience, Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) the voice of wisdom and compassion, and Professor Godbole (Alec Guiness) the transcendent, unaffected by the trappings of mere mortals. Together, they comprise one of the most memorable casts of characters ever assembled.

Nominated for eleven Oscars, winner of two, A Passage to India is notably faithful to Forster's original text, and is an essential for any epic film collection.