As a child I remember spending hours watching cartoons and episodes on our one and only small black and white television set. Watching TV was better than chocolate ice cream...well sometimes. However, once color TV became the norm and my parents could afford to buy a used color TV, then my appetite for the black and white television evaporated. With color television everything and everyone on the screen was beautiful.
Today, I am privileged to have high definition, satellite service and several televisions sprinkled throughout my house. However, I am still drawn to those old black and white films, not just any old films but the really great ones that still manage to communicate powerful messages, films that although visually unappealing allow me to see beyond the dullness, the shades of gray and the simple backgrounds, films like 12 Angry Men starring Henry Fonda or Breakfast at Tiffany's starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard.
After watching the 1964 film The Visit for the second time, I can't imagine any other actress of that period who could have portrayed the beautiful and yet calculating role of Karla Zachanassian any better than Ingrid Bergman. Her distinguished beauty and commanding tone captivate me from the moment she steps foot off the train.
Anthony Quinn brilliantly portrays Serge Miller, the man with the impressive I didn't do anything wrong look on his face. Serge's youthful cowardice pales in comparison to the actions of the townspeople once Karla begins to work her magic on them. Blinded by money and material possessions, much like Serge in his youth, the people in the town transform into despicable creatures who will do anything for money.
Poverty and desolation envelope the town and its residents, so in their quest to quiet their hunger, these pestiferous people willfully sell their souls. The fancy dresses, boots and cars are surely worth more than righteousness and dignity. They cleverly and with much ease find justice in their own injustice.
Unfortunately, there are no heroes in this film, no courageous souls willing to stand alone. I patiently wait for one, just one person to say "No. Stop. I will not do this." But eventually they all fall at Karla's feet and succumb to her vengeful plan. With unlimited money, she buys everything and every one and even those who at first claim they cannot be bought, soon settle for a small morsel.
By the end of the film, I forgive Serge Miller for his selfishness, greed, cowardice and heinous disregard for a woman who loves him and for the child he fathers. Forgiving Karla early on in the film is just as easy once I am aware of the injustice she suffers. I see her regret, her vacillation and constant inner struggles. However, I feel no pity for any of the townspeople who clearly lack integrity, who suffer no real sense of guilt or responsibility and fail to display a shred of human decency.
I am left to conclude that Karla is the only person who truly suffers. In addition to the pain of losing a child, she must also accept the betrayal of the man she loves and the deception of the townspeople who discard her to the wind. These people, all of them, deserve nothing from her, not her anger, resentment nor revenge. All that is left for her to do is walk away.
The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything.
Clip from The Visit
Clip from The Visit
Have you seen this film? What did you think of the main characters? How does the 1960's theme compare to modern society?