Monday, December 16, 2013
Goodbye Mr. Chips
When I was 18, I saw “Lawrence of Arabia” starring Peter O’Toole in a movie theater in Duluth, Minnesota. I actually watched it twice in the space of a week or two because I was so mesmerized by the stunning, captivating image of heroic Lawrence on the big screen. However, the truth is that the story starts on an exultant high note, but descends slowly (in about 4 hours) into Hell, as Lawrence essentially is driven to a kind of madness. So, I “loved” only the first part of “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Truthfully, it was watching Peter O’Toole (as Lawrence)—who was so dashing, stunning, captivating, and mesmerizing on screen—that I loved. Therefore, when the movie “Lord Jim” came to Duluth, I went to it because it starred Peter O’Toole. I went because I hoped that he would somehow reprise the image of the heroic T. E. Lawrence. Instead, O’Toole’s portrayal of the anguish and psychological turmoil of Jim was so eerily believable that it was deeply disturbing to me. Additionally, “Lord Jim” reminded me of O’Toole’s depiction of T. E. Lawrence’s disturbing descent into madness and Hell, which I did not want to remember.
As I viewed each succeeding Peter O’Toole movie over the years, in my mind’s eye I fondly recalled O’Toole as heroic Lawrence and I sentimentally yearned for just a glimpse of him somewhere in each movie – to no avail. That stunning image was gone forever.* However, O’Toole’s haunting portrayals of madness in Lawrence and in Lord Jim seemed to echo through many of his subsequent movies.
Even though I foolishly yearned for a glimpse of the hero, in time I gradually—if begrudgingly— learned to “appreciate” O’Toole’s immense acting ability. It was clear that he was able to immerse himself so completely into a character that he seemed no longer to be “acting” – he became the part. These portrayals were always disturbing because they were so real.
According to the New York Times:
“His acting method … was a process that blended ‘magic’ with ‘sweat,’ a matter of allowing a text to flow into his mind and body until he fully inhabited the character…. ‘I use everything – toes, teeth, ears, everything,’ he said."
Indeed! It was obvious: he truly deserved each of those eight Academy Award nominations as best actor!
My favorite O’Toole movie—one that I have watched several times and will yet enjoy watching again in the future—is “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” I love it because it is sentimental, and gentle, and full of love. It is a story about hope and charity. In his quiet, reserved way, Mr. Chips was truly heroic. And I think that in Mr. Chips, we can actually catch a glimpse the real Peter O’Toole.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips -- rest in peace.
* There is one image from Mr. Chips that is reminiscent of Lawrence: Mr. Chips runs across campus with his academic robes flying about him; Lawrence runs across the top of a train with his Arabic robes flying about him.