Friday, December 18, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Albert Finney (1970)

I cut off the Fezziwig scene a bit too early last year while talking about the musical Scrooge. Old Scrooge was sitting with the Ghost out of the way on a storage mezzanine, singing a melancholy ode to Isabelle as he watched his younger self dance with her. As the couple danced, the scene dissolved into a montage of other occasions during their courtship. They go boating on a little river, compete in an archery contest (she's better at it than he is), and go riding through the countryside in a little carriage (which is where Scrooge proposes to her). 

During all of this, Isabelle sings a song called "Happiness" in which she declares that the feeling isn't as intangible as people say, because it's incarnated itself in the young man she's with, Ebenezer Scrooge. Another constant during the montage is that Isabelle and Scrooge are always accompanied by her parents, Mr and Mrs Fezziwig. 

Young Scrooge keeps looking at the older couple and it took me a while to figure out why that was. I finally decided that he wasn't irritated at their constant presence. They always maintain a discreet distance from the younger couple, for one thing, but also, Scrooge doesn't look irritated. Instead, I think he's captivated by the older couple's relationship. I think he's seeing it as something he wants for himself. It's easy to understand why considering his lonely childhood.

When the montage ends, it doesn't lead directly into the break-up scene. It goes back to Fezziwig's party where Old Scrooge and the Ghost are still sitting and watching the dance. The montage, it turns out, wasn't a move forward in time, but most likely a flashback to events before the party. It's hard to tell, but I believe I spot an engagement ring on Isabelle's finger during the party.

Isabelle's "Happiness" fades back into Old Scrooge's sad song that he was singing earlier:

You, you were good for me.
You were my day.
You did all you could for me.
I let you go away.

"I did love her, you know," he tells the Ghost.

"Did you?" she wonders. "Then why did you let her go?"

He doesn't take his eyes off the dancers. "I've never been quite sure."

"Then let us go and see," she says.

Now we're in Scrooge's office as Belle comes in. She's wearing a fancy, sort of copper-colored dress with white fur trim. Definitely not in mourning, but she announces that she's come to say, "Goodbye." "I'm going away, Ebenezer. You will not see me again."

She's calm and collected about it, but Young Scrooge is utterly confused. I like how she uses visual aides to explain. When she talks about the "lady" who's replaced her in his heart, she picks up some coins from a little chest on his desk and shows them to him. Later in the conversation, she'll put her engagement ring on a scale with a couple of coins and show them to weigh heavier in terms of material gain.

Scrooge is upset and launches into his "there is nothing on which the world is so hard as poverty" defense. The conversation goes for a while as Dickens scripted it, emphasizing Scrooge's fear of hardship and suffering. In all of this though, Scrooge is emphatic that he still loves and wants to marry Isabelle and I believe him. As with the moments at Fezziwig's dance, this is an especially heartbreaking version of this scene. Isabelle can't follow Scrooge down the path he's chosen, but he desperately wants her to. 

Old Scrooge takes it particularly hard. Young Scrooge has gotten up from his desk and is moving around the office. I think he's partly just keeping busy and mellowing out the emotions of the conversation with at least the appearance of work. He throws Isabelle a glance every now and then, but mostly he just lets her talk. But at one point he says that he finds it impossible to talk about personal affairs during business hours, so maybe he just really is that distracted by the pressures of the workday and wants to take up this conversation with Isabelle later when he can focus on it.

Old Scrooge argues with her though, even if she can't hear him. He did love her, he insists. He still does. The Ghost shushes him though. "I'm trying to listen!" But Old Scrooge is very emotional. As his younger self sits back at the desk and listens to the rest of Isabelle's speech, Old Scrooge screams at him to say something. Young Scrooge is clearly hurt, he's even covering his mouth with a fist, holding back his emotions, but he remains silent. He wants to say something, but the only thing that will have an effect on her is for him to change something that has become fundamental to himself. And he's just too terrified to do that. He loves her, but his fear is stronger.

Old Scrooge pleads with Isabelle not to go. "It's a mistake!" But she leaves and only then does Young Scrooge call out her name. He even goes to the door to maybe try to catch her, but she's gone and he doesn't pursue any further. He sits back at the desk and looks thoughtfully at the door. He doesn't like what's happening, but he lets it happen. The alternative is too big a sacrifice.

"You fool!" Old Scrooge shouts at him. Then more quietly, "You fool." He walks over to the window and sees Isabelle walking alone through the snowy street. He picks up the sad song he was singing earlier.

I let you go away
And now I can see.
Now you're a dream gone by.
For how could there be
Such a fool as I?

I who must travel on,
What hope for me?
Dream where my past has gone;
Live with the memory.

You, my only hope.
You, my only love.
You, you, you...

He is utterly wrecked, just staring out the window like he's in shock as he humbly requests, "Spirit, remove me from this place. I can bear it no more."

And mercifully, she does. He's immediately back in his bed, holding his pillow and weeping. 

1 comment:

Caffeinated Joe said...

Seems like the saddest version of this scene yet.


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