The events in Moonlighting are played so low-key that at first one may not grasp their significance. The significance is there, but it is different from what one would have expected. Here is a film involving Poland and Solidarity, and one would think a film on this subject would take full advantage of its theme and present a dramatic conflict between freedom and oppression.
This is not what takes place, however. Jeremy Irons (best known for The French Lieutenant's Woman and the television series Brideshead Revisited) is the leader of a group of four Polish workmen who arrive in Britain to repair the London apartment of their party boss. They seem to have no political interests and are not members of Solidarity; they are concerned not with their country in general but with making a living and with the well-being of their families. But while they are in London, martial law is declared in Poland (December 1981). The foreman—the only one in the group who knows English—learns from the newspaper of the turn of events in Poland but decides not to tell his fellow construction workers for fear that they won't complete their assigned job. He tries to ensure their continued ignorance of Polish developments by virtually holding them in captivity in the apartment, making their stay in London a vague analogue of Poland under martial law. They are now stranded in London without funds and unable to return home.
Writer-director Jerzy Skolimowski develops his plot totally without melodramatics, and in the end the subdued tones carry the greatest impact. It is worth the price of admission all by itself to watch the transformation of Jeremy Irons from a visitor in a foreign country, staring wide-eyed at shops that actually contain consumer goods, to a troubled citizen who is a passive victim of international events over which he has no control.
The Lords of Discipline
"In this decadent and immoral society, there remain a few institutions devoted to the training of men of moral courage and self-discipline, on whose continued existence the survival of our society depends." Such is the view of military academies promulgated by those in charge of them, in two recent films.
It was clearly the view of the general played by George C. Scott in last year's Taps. This was a story of rebellion against that authority—but a rebellion not to destroy the system but to preserve it. Both sides of the issue were tellingly presented, and the viewer was left to decide for himself which course of action was the right one.
It is also the view of those in authority in the new film The Lords of Discipline. It is not as good a film as Taps: it is less intense, less focused, and the treatment less subtle. The issues here are pretty much black and white, and there is no doubt where one's sympathies should be when the professed ideals of those in charge are hypocritically at odds with their actual practice. The corruption comes to a head with the entrance of the first black cadet (circa 1964) into the Carolina Military Academy. Ostensibly, he is to be treated the same as every other cadet, but unofficially, those in charge want him out and don't care how it's done. How the black cadet stands up under intolerable pressure and physical torture, and how some secrets about the actual governance of the academy are discovered through the perseverance of one cadet, make for a tense and fairly exciting story.
After a flood of films and television serials about the medical profession, at last there is one that rings true. Threshold gives us an insight into the career of a heart surgeon, totally dedicated to his profession as well as to the psychological well-being of his patients. This role is superbly played by Donald Sutherland (who has never been better than in this film), with sensitivity, self-confidence, human sympathy, and a personal magnetism that draws the viewer to watch him with fascination. The heartbreak of losing patients one has sought to save, the development of new technology in medicine, and the race for time between the new technology and the saving of the lives of patients we have come to know and care about are portrayed with a quiet realism that makes sentimentality superfluous.
Any film about day-to-day hospital life is bound to be somewhat episodic. Patients come and go, and the daily round continues. But there are two intriguing themes around which this film is centered: first, the life (or death) of a young female patient and the experimental artificial heart implanted in her to replace the defective real one; and second, the contrast between the surgeon and a young biologist who is full of medical applications of his theories, spurned by the entrenched doctors, and contemptuous of them in turn because they get all the praise (and the money) while he does the experimental work that makes their surgery possible.
The release of this film was postponed because of the artificial heart implant that had meanwhile occurred in reality. But the film is interesting enough on its own: the postponement of its release was quite unnecessary.
John Hospers is the author of Understanding the Arts. He teaches philosophy at the University of Southern California.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Movies".