Irish setting for this drama from the ’60s, featuring Rita Tushingham, Peter Finch, and Lynn Redgrave. Based on a novel, The Lonely Girl, by Edna O’Brien, who also did the screenplay for the movie.
Kate (Tushingham) moves to Dublin from the country. When rooming with Baba (Redgrave), she meets Eugene (Finch), a middle-aged writer, with an estranged family. Rita is waifish (the contemporary Village Voice review describes Tushingham as having a “gorgeous ugliness”), Baba’s sort of a mentor, and Eugene represents the world-weary older-guy.
Kate’s romance with Eugene is the focus of this story from the British ‘kitchen sink drama’ wave, epitomized by 1959’s Look Back In Anger, which also starred Finch. In supporting roles there’s Arthur O’Sullivan, Maire Keen, Julian Glover, T.P. McKenna, Patrick Laffan, and Liselotte Goettinger.
We start with Kate’s narration, setting the stage. Her and Baba are on a double-date with Bertie (Laffan). Then she’s at work, in a store. She’s reading Fitzgerald’s This Side Of Paradise; now, getting off a bus with Baba, they go into a dance club.
What a bunch of swingin’ hipsters this band is! (Pre-Beatles coat and thin ties, short hair). A motormouth guy sits down with Kate, but buzzes off. All these quick scenes are great; we delve into her life without getting stuck in one spot.
After confession, Kate and Baba zip out, giggling. Bertie drives up. They drive out out to the country, ending up in a village “nothing but a bunch of horseflies and cowdung” comments Baba. Here comes Eugene, he lives thereabouts. Baba upbraids her for not keeping Eugene’s attention.
Bertie fills her in a little on Eugene. Back in town, she’s like Georgy Girl, window-shopping. In a bookstore, she runs into Eugene; they talk a little about Fitzgerald. Then the three of them go to tea. Of course, Baba dominates the conversation. By now it’s obvious that Kate’s taken with Eugene.
More cuts among scenes, Kate doing this, and that. The bouncy, care-free nature of this stuff works so well. She’s busy writing Eugene a letter–that is, an invitation–to tea. Kate made a smart move, as she pretended Baba was coming, then told him that she couldn’t make it.
This is her first real ‘date’ with Eugene. She tells him that she’s studying to “be something else”–something other than a clerk in a shop. She has a good ploy to; he offers to meet with her the following week to look and and talk about his books.
They talk about their families. She wonders “I suppose a lot of girls have been in love with you” followed by “were they very sophisticated?” Unlike her, she probably thinks. Then “You’re a mixture of innocence and guile” he remarks, perceptively. Then they’re at a pub. He out-and-out says, though, that he doesn’t want to get involved with her.
“It’s passion I fear,” he compares her to a lemur, “a night animal with big, hungry eyes.” On a pier, they quote poetry to each other, and kiss. The composition here is outstanding, making a geometric scene of the two of them, the pier, the surrounding water and sky.
At home, she’s ecstatic “I’m a lemur!” Whee! “She’s fluffing herself all over the place!” says Baba, to Eugene, as they sit down to tea at their boardinghouse. Pretty awkward for Kate, who’s trying to look cool, smoking. The cigarette falls down into her dress, Baba has to douse her with a pitcher of cream.
She’s embarassed, of course, but when she changes into more casual stuff she actually looks more alluring. Eugene takes her out. On the street, they meet an acquaintance of Eugene’s, who blithely inquires about his wife. Needless to say, Kate disappears.
Baba and her talk about it; “I’ll bet she’s eighty and has a moustache,” quips Baba, helpfully. But, now, Kate gets a call from him. She agrees to go out with him the next day “we’ll need jollying up.” True. But when the moment comes he gets to the point “alright, out with it, tell me I’m a cruel, crooked, deceitful bastard.”
She’s mollified when she learns that his wife is in the U.S. They go to his place in the country village. She meets Josie (Keen), who’s as no-nonsense a housekeeper as possible. Josie characterizes Laura, Eugene’s wife, as a “smash-up.” Anyway, Kate goes walking with Eugene. He admits that he misses his wife, but doesn’t like her. Apparently, Laura’s arranging for a Reno divorce.
He tells Kate that they can’t be friends if they become lovers; she’d rather remain friends, I think. That night, they listen to records. Geez, she’s spending the night. I’d say they’re lovers now; guest room or no guest room.
Next day, she’s talking with Baba about the deal with Eugene. But soon enough, she’s hanging out with him in the woods around his place. They discuss relationships, their transient nature. Another beautiful scene: she pretends to shun him, then comes running back joyfully through the trees; when they embrace, though, it’s inside the house. No transition, but none needed either. I think the point is that she not only rejoins him physically, but entirely, by reentering his house.
She can’t help traipsing back to his room. He: “Aren’t you going to take your boots off.” Shen, then: “I don’t know what I’m doing” in his bed. She doesn’t want to have sex, but says that she loves him. In the morning she continues to apologize for her hesitation. He says “don’t keep apologizing, it makes it sound like a road accident.” Good one.
She does feel abandoned, though. So she imagines running after him. A lot of beguiling daydreams, she’s been crying. Back in her room, she discovers a box of his kid’s toys–his daughter’s. Back in town, she gets to assure him that it will be “better” next weekend. But he tells her that he’ll be in London for a few weeks. He’ll send her a postcard.
Is this a snub? At least it doesn’t augur well for what’s become a romantic relationship. Baba takes the tone we’d expect, giving Eugene a mock epitaph. At the shop, her father and uncle come barging in; it’s obvious they’ve heard of her going with Eugene. Her dad got an anonymous letter detailing the affair, “With a divorced man.”
They basically drag her back home on the train. We see the paternal figures getting absolutely drunk; the hypocrisy a clear indictment of the predominantly sexist society. Her only escape is the train’s restroom. A weird symbolic montage when she gets home. The farm apparatus, the swingset she played on when she was little, etc.
Luckily, it looks like dad’s passed out. Her aunt’s (May Craig’s) turn to condemn Kate: auntie doesn’t care whether Eugene’s divorced or still in the process “divorce! Worse than murder, far worse!” Kate’s soon sneaking out; unfortunately, dad cuts that off. It gets worse, she learns from Dad that she’s been fired as well. At least he says he can probably get her a job in Limerick.
Great, who comes calling but the priest (McKenna). “Well, tell me all about yourself” then he gets down to business, he advises her to stay home, for the sake of her father. When she points out that “he has his drinking friends” the priest blows that off. Hypocrisy strikes another blow “a man needs his drinking friends.” Right.
Technically, according to the Church, she’s committed adultery, a mortal sin. She screams, and has to literally run away. Fortunately, she gets back to her place in Dublin with Baba. The plot thickens, as Eugene’s returned. Baba thinks she should just show up at his doorstep. She does.
He’s home. She’s welcome, but has no idea what’s in store for her. “All I want is peace, and you’re running around with your teeth chattering.” Good droll stuff. But he doesn’t want her to leave. A bunch of goons show up, uncle included, demanding that Eugene produce Kate. Looking around at Eugene’s erotic paintings, they’re aghast: “are you a heathen?” Guilty, perhaps.
Thank god the housekeeper comes in, brandishing a shotgun, with a more than ceremonial discharge. When the dust settles, Kate says he’ll likely get another girl, more drollery: “there aren’t any other girls with such a nice face and such an awful family.” Just the right thing to say, as she doesn’t hesitate to hop in bed with him.
Next stop, Dublin. What’s this? He gets her a ring for “as long as you keep your girlish laughter.” What a beautiful thing to say to her. I’m thinking, what could go wrong now? There’s no way the country-bumpkin lynch mob is going to risk a Dublin invasion.
She dolls herself up considerably; she tells the landlady that she’s married… really? She goes to meet Eugene in a restaurant, he pours champagne. They make some funny toasts, looking happy ever after.
Ok, there they are, at his beautiful place. She’s already having trouble keeping his attention. He has his nose in his work, he corrects her about her cooking, and he didn’t take her to Mass. Does he believe in God? “I do when I’m going eighty-miles-an-hour.”
Well, he takes her to Mass the following week. When she doesn’t worship she “feels all the goodness going out of me.” He picks a flower for her “a flower of May for a girl of May.” Coming right as it does after her comments about Christianity, this gesture reflects a pagan awareness that is more congenial to him. He also has a good point that it seems paradoxical how she can square piety with her obvious enjoyment of sex.
Later, in the greenhouse, she watches the rain. His friends come to visit; the guy is insufferable. Mary (Yolanda Turner) compares Eugene to Heathcliffe, making Kate Jane (of Jane Eyre). She feels out of place with them, plus Mary, who’s Laura’s friend, has been filling in the estranged spouse (so they’re not divorced) about, well, everything, Kate presumes.
“I liked it when it was just us.” But, it isn’t. So much for the happily ever after stuff: I guess what she referred to as ‘marriage’ was his impromptu vows on the street–when she got the ring. Ok, so now a tea thingie with Baba. One more dart is Kate’s sarcastic telegram from Laura.
She’s still with Eugene. As in staying with him. But Laura sends him an airline ticket to New York., “one relationship doesn’t cancel out another” he tells Kate. And, not very tactfully “I liked you better before you started thinking.” At the restaurant in town, she literally cashes in her chips: leaving the ring, and leaving when he goes into the bar.
Back at the rooming house, Baba agrees to see if she can get him to come back to Kate. After she leaves Kate ruminates over photos of him. Baba’s back, and…he has gone home. The just of it’s that, now, it’s really over. Her and Baba are off to London. On the boat she looks back with great melancholy, but then turns to face Baba, and her future, with a wide grin.
We end with what are presumably London street scenes, she narrates with more confidence about her changed life. The end.
A magnificent movie. Particularly for Tushingham’s and Finch’s performances. Redgrave, too, is superbly cast as Kate’s polar opposite personality, but loyal friend. I certainly can’t see anything unattractive about Tushingham’s character; what’s unattractive about youth and naivety?
Certainly Kate doesn’t really fit in with Eugene, even when they’re alone. It’s obvious that he’s totally captivated with her, and she adores him. But even Eugene, free-thinker that he is, treats her more or less as a kept woman. She could probably even deal with that status, if it weren’t for Laura’s haunting presence. Although Eugene and Kate don’t appear to be likely as more than sexual lovers, it takes until almost the very end to discover just what is possible and what isn’t.
It’s as though the viewer has Kate’s rosy-colored glasses on (it is, after all, her story). We never hear that Eugene is actually divorced, so when Kate announces that she’s married him, we assume that he must’ve become eligible. But, in effect, we’re taking her word for it.
Its hard to blame her for what look very much like juvenile changes of heart; Eugene is kind and courteous, then he’s disdainful and remote. They both get what they want in bed. This sort of back and forth would be confusing for anyone.
When a movie ends in the same dramatic space (quietly, yet hopefully, in Green Eyes) that we have experienced throughout, it works. If anyone had died (plenty of possibilities here) then the story just falls away, as though without meaning. Clearly, though, we see that Kate, Baba and Eugene will simply continue; the movie gives us a chapter, in Kate’s case, perhaps the decisive bit in her life story.
In a way, a fictional story is similar to a painting’s ‘story’; if the movie’s or novel’s ending is too contrived, it’s like the painting where the scene is contained too neatly within its borders. We would like the pictorial or literary narrative to continue into time and/or space.
Hopefully, my long digression emphasizes why Green Eyes is a great viewing experience. Its focus remains steady, as its theme expands well beyond a few months in 1964 Dublin. 10/10.