Pilgrimage second impressions: This one’s for Richard Armitage [no spoilers]

No altercations in the theater tonight apart from those on screen.

Since Armitage is the reason I came here in the first place:

I was thinking about why people are going to want to see this despite the violence. And make no mistake, he’s involved in some of the most violent scenes, and at least in some instances, the most interesting looks on his face appear while he’s committing the violence.

For this film, a lot of it lies in his eyes. He’s got the strut / trudge of the medieval knight down well, and there’s an argument for the jaw, and the arrogant masculinity that all of it combines to create, and maybe also the physical tension; even when he’s calm it often seems like he’s seconds from becoming explosive. But in the end, it’s gotta be the eyes. He’s often watchful — in two key scenes the camera looks at home looking at someone else’s conversation — and it’s instructive. There’s the way he can suddenly look incredibly outraged when all he’s done is open his eyelids a fraction of a millimeter and immobilize the rest of his face. I have no idea how he does that.

But most importantly, there’s this way — and I noticed at least three times in the film — that he simultaneously looks inward and outward. I can’t think of a good way to describe this. But as he’s speaking and looking out toward his interlocutors, and conveying emotion that way, he seems at the same time to be looking inside himself, musing around his words, not with any kind of regret, but with a sort of awareness of himself. When I notice him doing this, at least, I just cannot make myself look away. It’s like when he looks into himself, he sucks me into looking into his internal state as well, and I’m mesmerized, and then I realize I’m looking into something that’s actually quite unattractive, and there’s a jolt, there, too — a realization that I’m somehow caught looking at him looking at himself.

~ by Servetus on April 28, 2017.

18 Responses to “Pilgrimage second impressions: This one’s for Richard Armitage [no spoilers]”

  1. Your post, combined with a new (more nuanced and insightful) review I found this morning, have just reassured me that I do want to watch this film. I was already getting a bit put off because every review has been focussing so completely on the graphic brutality of “Pilgrimage”. It sounds as if this a fine piece of acting on the part of Mr A, and that should make it worth-while.
    Your description of the simultaneous inward – outward looking sounds fascinating – especially as you also label it “unattractive”. Is the inward-looking part of the character, or is it the actor reflecting on his own acting?


    • I think Raymond de Merville knows what he is and his relationship to that is different than mine. (I know that’s not very well put) I don’t want to say “he accepts himself” (a la Mulligan), because that is not quite it. But what he’s looking at, it’s not pretty, and he knows it and the viewer knows it.


      • I think I understand what you mean. He is conscious of his “sins”, but he believes they are necessary? (For some reason I am suddenly thinking of Dorian Gray – except he ignores the ugliness.)
        In any case – WOW! To give that kind of introspection/introflexion a physical shape, is quite a feat. (Honestly wow, I really have to see that film. I love it when RA excels.)


        • He’s very pragmatic, but again, in a way different from Mulligan. Mulligan was kind of insouciant about everything but with the layer of insecurity because of his childhood underneath it. Raymond de Merville isn’t insecure about much in that sense, as the scion of an important family. His position anxiety might be a bit more about politics. But he’s really expedient, and yet not quite a sadist. It’s hard to explain.


          • Well, he is also a man living in a different time, where violence seems to have been both more present as well as prevalent. It probably did not need justification the way it does nowadays.
            BTW, I would love to know what was on Mr A’s reading list for the prepping of this role. Apart from the history of the Norman conquest, did he study some social history, possibly the role of the aristocracy in society etc… (Maybe he didn’t – and just fell back on his previous research for Sir Guy… 😋)


            • I think that there’s a sort of modern aesthetic that permeates a lot of medieval filmmaking. There were rules about acceptable violence in the middle ages, too, just not the ones we have now. What I notice most often is the sort of filmmaker’s fantasy that medieval people just killed or harmed others at the flick of a switch, for any reason or no reason. In fact there were intense debates about this in the middle ages (Aquinas wrote lengthy disquisitions on whether soldiers could be saved, for instance) both at the high and popular cultural levels — as you know, medieval epics and chivalric stories and so on are permeated with violence, but there are also rules. There’s a little bit of that going on in this movie — but most of the violence we see is justified by the circumstances of the narrative.

              I would love to know, too, although I wonder how much of it was visual. How the knight looks, moves. Then again, as you point, he’s played a decent number of soldiers …


  2. This is going to be a difficult decision for me to make, to view or not to view. There is so much in its favour – RA’s performance, the beauty of Ireland, the fact that I have enjoyed reading several books about this period in history. It was difficult enough to watch Hannibal from behind eyes shut tight. 😦 I will need someone sitting beside me to prod me at the appropriate “safe” times!


    • I sat next to a fellow fan last night and she watched through her fingers. I just look away from the screen … but I would be very surprised if there were not quickly a fan edit of this, after it becomes broadly available, to protect sensitive viewers (like there used to be fan edits on YT of BTS that cut out all the sex scenes).


  3. The eyes – looking forward to that! I will watch them closely once I actually get to watch this.


  4. This is sounding more and more interesting to me! Hubby says it sounds too violent for him, but my boys may want to see it for Jon Bernthal, being Walking Dead fans.


    • I understand Walking Dead is really violent. TBH I think the average teen male would not have a problem with this, at least not these days.


      • Well my teen says that the violence makes it “more realistic”, as in if zombies were real, that’s what would be happening. I was watching a Strike Back interview today with Andrew Lincoln and my son said, “Oh that’s the guy from Walking Dead!” Seems I may have someone to re-watch Strike Back with too!


  5. He is tremendously gifted. For me, the reason he’s mesmerizing to watch is that he is honest in his performances; he gives them his all and doesn’t hold back. I can feel the energy and testosterone coming out of the screen – not to mention the pheromones. As much as I dislike graphic violence, I will have to see this film.


  6. […] three times at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Individual reactions from those nights are here, here and here. This is an attempt at a coherent evaluation of the film, but if you read those posts, […]


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