“You should see it. It has that funny guy in it but it’s not a funny movie.”
I can still hear my father’s enthusiastic movie recommendation insomuch I remember making a mental note of the film’s title as I headed off to bed that night; never suspecting Dad would pass away just three months later.
The film was the 1984 re-make of The Razor’s Edge starring Bill Murray and only recently was I finally motivated to see the movie my father praised so long ago.
Unlike my father’s endorsement, the film was roundly panned by critics and ultimately failed at the box office. However when reading online reviews from moviegoers now, I see it highly rated with many stating this was “their favorite film” and others even commenting it “changed their life.”
My personal appreciation came from how I was drawn into the deep contrasting layers of the story and understood how aspects of this drama could resonate deeply to audiences’ own life experiences. (But I must admit the first time Bill Murray appears on screen, I briefly thought, “Stripes meets Sergeant York”.)
The storyline begins on July 4th, 1917 with two Americans, Larry Darrell (Murray) and Gray Maturin volunteering into WWI. For baby boomers like myself, these characters could represent our own grandfathers then heading off to Europe.
The film covers a span of about 15 years and encompasses such subjects as the stock market crash of 1929, the subsequent Depression, alcoholism, post traumatic stress and spiritual enlightenment. As the years pass, a reoccurring backdrop of climbing stairs and mountains are used metaphorically to illustrate the quest for higher learning and the ability to move on from life’s challenges.
But more importantly, it’s a film about second chances and the capacity of saving someone’s life mentally, spiritually as well as physically. In a pivotal early scene, Larry’s perspective on life is altered forever when he is saved by his commanding officer during a battlefield ambush. Years later we see Larry saving a fellow coalminer from a runway cart; saves former comrade Gray from a suicidal depression and lastly saves a jilted aristocrat wannabe from dying in sadness. However the one person Larry wants to save the most, he ironically cannot.
Production wise, the movie was shot on location in Paris and India which cinematographically is an upgrade over the 1946 version. The cast’s performances are solid but it is the role of Sophie by Theresa Russell that should have been Oscar worthy. The musical score by Jack Nitzsche will inspire goose bumps you might have thought disappeared from within.
Two years before ever seeing The Razor’s Edge, I experienced moments of time alone in my backyard shed, “to think”. I had the joy and anxiety of being a first time father at 48, but seven months later, I was dealt with my ex-wife’s death from cancer; six months later the death of my mother. Reflecting back on these two losses, I realized I was searching in my isolation for answers that simply did not exist.
Thus, it hit home for me when Larry upon returning from war, tells fiancée Isabel he needs time to “think”. Years later, Larry is seen sitting alone in a shed-like hut in the mountains of Tibet sorting out for himself, “life’s meaning.” ` These scenes connected to an acceptance of my life and I have fancied the thought that my father was foreshadowing a path of guidance. As far fetched as that seems, I no longer feel the need to visit my shed, “to think”.
Recently I again thought of Larry Darrell when he explains to Isabel the purpose of his life, “I found out there’s another debt to pay, for the privilege of being alive.” Last year, my fiancée faced and endured the physical side effects of precautionary chemo for early stage breast cancer. I saw the “debt” she paid to ensure a full recovery and that early detection gave her, that second chance.
The film concludes at Isabel’s home in Paris, where Larry announces he is going “home.” When asked, where home is, he replies patriotically, “America”. Larry is last seen slowly climbing – then running up the Montmartre stairs and into his future, a changed man with his second chance at life.
As for my life, I know I will never sit in a wooden hut in the Tibetan Mountains to comprehend its meaning. But if I did, I’ll know the reasons why.
Jesse James Schroeder
East Setauket, New York