Sunday, February 1, 2015

In short: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

Over the years, we have been quite lucky with the overall quality of John Le Carré adaptations, on TV as well as on the big screen. Martin Ritt’s film is the first of them all, and might very well be the best, though that’s a matter of personal taste as much as of the film’s quality.

To me, it certainly is the bleakest of them all, and therefore the one closest to the soul of the Cold War. Like all of the Smiley novels and films, The Spy is – and I think I’m repeating myself here – a film about all sorts of betrayal, betrayals of country, belief, loved ones and oneself, of betrayals crushing characters who are more often than not traitor and betrayed at the same time. The Spy in particular is a film about people – especially of course Richard Burton’s Alec Leamas who has the eyes of a man who has seen and done profoundly horrible things - who reached the point where telling themselves they do all the shabby, horrible things they do out of necessity and for some greater good just isn’t enough anymore but who are ruined for anything beyond these things by all that they’ve done and seen. Of course, and not surprisingly, any remnant of normal human feeling they still carry is exactly the thing that gets them killed, or, worse still, getting the people killed who still carry ideals which aren’t built on betrayal. At its core, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a film of people maimed, and rather more often crushed, not so much by the forces of history (that would be too friendly a thing to be crushed by) but by powers that have long divorced themselves from any moral except of the moral of expediency; actual moustache-twirling evil would also seem a much preferable thing to be crushed by.

It’s the world of international espionage as a kind of cosmic horror of the soul, realized by Ritt in a calm, unspectacular manner that makes the resulting film all the more horrible and weighty. The abyss, it turns out, is not a place of dark magic, but of the greyness of the everyday.

No comments: