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O
Lucky
Man!


and
the
Movie
as
Koan 1


The
solution
of
the
problem
of
life
is
seen
in
the

vanishing
of
the
problem.
(Is
not
this
the
reason
why

those
who
have
found
after
a
long
period
of
doubt
that

the
sense
of
life
became
clear
to
them
have
then
been

unable
to
say
what
constituted
that
sense?)

Ludwig
Wittgenstein


Personally
I
can
only
say
that
he
seems
to
me
to

arrive,
after
his
journeying
through
the
world
of

illusion,
at
some
kind
of
acceptance
of
reality.

Lindsay
Anderson


In
his
“Ariadne’s
Thread,”
J.
Hillis
Miller
attempts
to

explain
the
predominance
of
the
mise
en
abyme
in
narrative
literature.
he
shows
that

virtually
all
narrative
lines
tend
to
subvert
their
own
forward
movement
succumb
to

repetition,
that
is,
to
“anything
which
happens
to
the
line
to
trouble
or
even
to

confound
its
straightforward
linearity:
returnings,
knottings,
recrossings,
crinklings

to
and
fro,
suspensions,
interruptions,
fictionalizings.”
Because
of
this
tendency,

criticism
of
narrative
takes
on
the
quality
of
a
labyrinth.
Each
“unitary
thread”
of
a

narrative
dissolves
and
is
replaced
with
the
dialogical;
every
monologue
becomes
a

Mobius
strip
in
which
what
appears
to
be
one
sided
is
actually
two‐sided
and
the

two‐sided
is
really
one‐sided.
The
critic,
as
a
result,
experiences
what
Foucault
calls

a
“refus
du
commencement”
in
the
attempt
to
interpret
the
text—the
feeling
that

there
is
no
end
to
his
task,
no
grounding
for
his/her
line
of
thought—and
thus
begins

to
believe
that
narrative
is
in
reality
only
the
“allegorizing
along
a
temporal
line
of

the
perpetual
displacement
from
immediacy”
(72).
(By
“allegory”
Miller
here
means

“the
expression
of
the
impossibility
of
expressing
unequivocally,
and
so
dominating,

what
is
meant
by
experience
or
by
writing.”)

Given
the
nature
of
the
critic’s
dilemma,
then,
there
remains
only
one
reality

valid
thing
to
do:
to
follow
a
track
into
a
work
until
a
double
bind
is
reached
and
not

prematurely
presume
the
work’s
unity.
For
all
unities
are
spurious,
“imposed
rather


1
This essay originally appeared in Literature/Film Quarterly 8.1
(1980): 35-40.
The Collected Works of David Lavery 2

than
intrinsic,”
Miller
insists,
but
“This
can
be
experienced,
however,
only
through

the
patient
work
of
following
some
thread
as
far,
deep
into
the
labyrinth,
as
it
will

go.”
And,
therefore,
this
type
of
interpretation
becomes
“not
the

‘deconstruction’
of
a
given
novel,
but
rather
a
discovery
of
the
way
it

deconstructs
itself
in
the
process
of
constructing
its
web
of
story‐
telling”
(74).

Miller
is,
of
course,
thinking
only
of
verbal
narrative.
In
fact,
he

suggests
that
the
true
source
and
model
of
verbal
narrative’s
tendency

toward
the
mise
en
abyme
lies
in
language
itself:
every
etymology,
for
example,

seems
to
end
in
a
double
bind.
But
what
about
a
narrative
vehicle
like
films
which

develops
its
“line”
not
through
the
verbal
exclusively,
but
with
the
aid
of
images?
Do

movies
likewise
fall
prey
to
the
mise
en
abyme?

It
would
seem
that
they
and
that
instances
of
cinematic
labyrinths
are
fairly

common.
The
most
obvious
examples
are,
of
course,
a
number
of
films
about

filmmaking
made
in
the
last
two
decades:
such
works
as
Fellini’s
8
1/2,
Truffaut’s

Day
for
Night,
even
Mel
Brooks’
Blazing
Saddles
and
Gene
Wilder’s
The
World’s

Greatest
Lover,
construct,
each
in
their
own
way,
labyrinths
by
calling
attention
to

their
nature
as
works
of
imagination
and
by
denying
the
viewer’s
“willing
suspension

of
disbelief”
in
the.
In
8
1/2,
for
example,
Fellini’s
narrative
concerns
Guido
Anselmi,

a
motion
picture
director
who
cannot
finish
the
movie
he
is
making
because
his

inspiration
has
failed
him,
and
the
movie
which
he
cannot
and
does
not
finish
in
the

film’s
narrative
is,
of
course,
the
very
one
in
which
the
story
of
his
failure
is
so

brilliantly
told.
“I
have
nothing
to
say,”
Guido
proclaims
at
one
point
in
the
film,

“and
I
intend
to
say
it.”
And
so
he
does;
8
1/2
is
the
medium
in

which
he
says
that
nothing.

Lindsay
Anderson’s
O
Lucky
Man!
(1973)
would
seem
to
be

another
particularly
fine
example
of
a
cinematic
labyrinth.
It
tells

the
story
of
Michael
(Mick)
Travis,
played
by
Malcolm
McDowell,
a

young
coffee
salesman,
and
of
his
epic
adventures,
beginning
in

London,
progressing
to
the
North
of
England,
and
then
returning

full
circle
back
to
London.
(The
character
of
Mick,
it
should
be

remembered,
had
previously
been
the
key
figure
in
Anderson’s
If
.

.
.
(1968),
in
which
he
an
English
school
boy
who,
in
a
fit
of
anarchistic
rebellion
at

the
film’s
end,
breaks
up
his
school’s
graduation
ceremonies
with
tear
gas
and
then

attacks
the
congregation
with
a
machine
gun.)
As
episode
after
episode
reveal
the

The Collected Works of David Lavery 3

film’s
title
to
be
largely
ironic,
as
Mick
is
taken
prisoner
and
ruthlessly
interrogated

at
a
secret
military
installation,
as
he
nearly
becomes
the
victim
of
fiendish

vivisectional
experiments,
and
as
he
is
insidiously
set
up
for
a
prison
term
by
a

sinister
plutocrat,
Anderson
intercuts
his
narrative
with
repeated
scenes
taking

place,
the
screenplay
informs
us,
in
“limbo,”
in
which
Alan
Price
and
his
group

perform
the
songs
that
make
up
O
Lucky
Man!
soundtrack.
And
accompanying
Price
in

the
first
of
these
scenes
is
Lindsay
Anderson
himself,
not
to

mention
the
film’s
continuity
girl,
its
assistant
director,
and

its
cinematographer,
Miroslaw
Ondricek.

As
the
film
comes
to
a
close,
Mick
finds
himself

wandering
the
streets
of
London
in
a
state
of
utter

disillusionment
following
his
unsuccessful
attempt
to
put
his

new‐found
social
consciousness
at
work
at
dispensing
charity

in
the
London
slums.
He
finds
himself
in
front
of
a
hall
in

which
try‐outs
are
being
conducted
to
find
the
star
of
an

upcoming
movie.
The
film
for
which
he
auditions
is,
of
course,

O
Lucky
Man!,
as
even
the
take‐board
in
the
scene
informs
us,

and
Lindsay
Anderson
himself
is
conducting
the
screening.

This
particular
form
of
the
labyrinth
is
not,
of
course,
unique
with
Anderson’s

film.
Fellini
virtually
patented
it
in
8
1/2
and
returned
to
it
again
with
slight

variation
in
The
Clowns
and
Roma,
both
films
about
Fellini
making
films
about,

respectively,
clowns
and
Rome,
and
both
films
which
predate
O
Lucky
Man!,
thus

making
it
seem
likely
that
Anderson’s
debt
to
Fellini
may
be
large.
But
O
Lucky
Man!

is
nevertheless,
a
work
of
real
distinction
which,
in
its
creation
of
what
seems
to
be

a
cinematic
labyrinth,
is
able
to
put
under
particularly
fine
scrutiny
the
nature
of

imagistic
narrative.
In
so
doing
it
also
suggests
an
entirely
different,
more

affirmative
way
of
viewing
and
understanding
the
mise
en
abyme
than
the
literary

way
proposed
by
Miller.

Just
before
he
is
arrested
as
a
communist
spy
outside
the
gates
of
a
military

base,
the
radio
in
Mick’s
Ford
Anglia
is
tuned
to
a
talk
show
on
which
two
men

discuss
Zen
Buddhism.
Asked
to
explain
what
Zen
Buddhism.
Asked
to
explain
what

Zen
means,
the
show’s
“expert”
replies:


To
understand
life,
to
be
with
life,
to
.
.
.
get
a
feeling
of
life.
.
.
.
So
that
in

effect
all
your
days
are
good
days;
and
every
day
should
be
looked
upon
as

The Collected Works of David Lavery 4

living
in
the
moment
.
.
.
rather
than
in
the
past
or
in
the
future—and
this

really
what
Zen
is
all
about—living
now.


Although
“NOW”
has
already
presented
itself
as
an
image
(title)
earlier
in
the

film
(immediately
after
the
opening
scenes
of
the
coffee
fields
and
before
the
first

appearance
of
Alan
Price
and
his
group)
Mick
is
clearly
not
at
that
moment
living
in

the
“now.”
He
is
engaged,
rather,
in
consulting
his
map
and
in
looking
for
a
way
into

the
military
base
in
order
to
make
a
promised
sale.
He
does
not
heed
the
radio’s

mentoring
guidance,
so
immersed
is
he
in
his
journey
and
his
calculative
projects.

Nor
does
he
seem
to
hear
its
hints
concerning
his
own
coming
destiny
as
the

interview
continues;
he
is
busy
looking
through
his
binoculars
into
the
distance
as

the
interviewer
inquires,
“Now
tell
me
how
we
come
by
this
illumination
.
.
.?”
and

the
expert
replies:


It
is
a
very
hard
practice.
Nothing
is
acquired
in
a
day.
.
.
.
It
comes
suddenly.

It
comes
in
many
ways.
One
could
be
arranging
a
vase
of
flowers
.
.
.
one

could
be
sitting
cross‐legged
with
a
straight
back
.
.
.
one
could
be
doing
so

many
things.
.
.
.


One,
the
expert
on
Zen
might
have
gone
on
to
say,
might
even
be
auditioning

for
a
film
when
illumination
comes.
For
the
saying
which
comes
from
Mick’s
radio
is,

in
a
sense,
the
film’s
inner
voice;
it
is,
in
this
case,
like
the
direction‐giving
of
the

archetypal
wise‐old‐man
to
those
lost
in
dark
forests.
It
brings
Mick
the
same

message
that
Anderson
himself
brings
in
person
in
the
film’s
closing
scene,
except

that
there
Anderson
resorts
to
a
device
beyond
verbal
artifice,
one
frequently
used

by
masters
in
Zen
monastery
as
a
pedagogical
tool:
a
physical
blow
administered
to

awaken
him
to
the
reality
of
the
present
moment,
a
device
which
has
frequently

been
the
immediate
cause
of
satori,
or
sudden
enlightenment.
And
yet
what

Anderson
hits
Mick
with
is
none
other
than
the
script
of
the
film
for
which
Mick
is

auditioning,
which
is,
by
extension,
the
script
of
the
film
which
we
are
at
that

moment
seeing
as
well.

The Collected Works of David Lavery 5


A
wild
party
ensue,
a
celebration
of
victory,
at
which
all
of
the
cast
of
O
Lucky

Man!
dance
joyfully
together,
in
which
Anderson
and
McDowell
embrace
each
other

triumphantly.
In
the
film’s
final
shot
an
iris
closes
in
on
Mick,
dressed
again
in
the

miraculous
green
suit
given
to
him
by
the
film’s
wise‐old‐man
Monty,
dancing,

reaching
out
his
mouth
open
in
a
cry
of
joy
that
is
the
contrapositive
of
an
earlier

image
of
McDowell
(in
the
guise
of
a
peasant
laborer
in
the
coffee
fields
in
the
film’s

opening
sequence)
in
which
his
mouth
similarly
opened
wide
in
a
close‐up
shot,
but

then
in
a
cry
of
horrible
pain
as
his
hands
were
chopped
off.
The
film
has
come
full

circle:
it
has
doubled
back
and
overtaken
itself.
A
lyric
of
Alan
Price’s
often
repeated

title
song
has
prepared
us
for
this:
“And
it’s
round
the
world
in
circles
turning.
.
.
.”

O
Lucky
Man!
succumbs
to
narrative
repetition
on
a
grand
scale,
not
only
in

its
Mobius
strip
structure,
but
in
nearly
every
aspect
of
the
film
as
well.
Even
the

actors
themselves
appear
and
reappear
again
and
again,
sometimes
three
and
four

times.
The
man
who
slaps
Mick’s
face
during
the
interrogation
at
the
military
base,

for
example,
also
serves
as
Sir
James’s
aide‐de‐campe
until
he
dies
in
his
attempt
to

prevent
Professor
Stewart’s
suicide
and
later
still
he
appears
as
Lindsay
Anderson’s

right‐hand‐man
at
the
auditions.
Or
to
cite
another
example,
Monty,
the
wise‐old‐
man,
played
by
Sir
Ralph
Richardson,
disappears
early
in
the
film
only
to
reappear
as

Sir
James;
in
one
scene
his
image
befriends
Mick
with
the
gift
of
the
suit,
and
in

another
his
image
treacherously
betrays
him.
(The
same
could
be
said
for
the

multiple
roles
played
by
Rachel
Roberts—as
Gloria
Row
and
Madame
Mailard—and

Arthur
Lowe—as
Mr.
Duff
and
Charlie
Johnson,
then
as
Dr.
Manda,
each
of
whom
is

originally
Mick’s
benefactor
only
to
later
turn
upon
him.)
And
Patricia
Burgess
and

the
Duke
of
Belminster
(Helen
Mirren)
are,
at
one
and
the
same
time
it
seems,

wealthy
nobility
and
street
derelicts
(“This
is
the
Duke
of
Belminster”),

The Collected Works of David Lavery 6

What
if,
Nietzsche
once
asked,


some
day
or
night
a
demon
were
to
steal
after
you
into
your
loneliness
and

say
to
you;
“This
life
as
you
now
live
it
and
have
lived
it,
you
will
have
to
live

once
more
and
innumerable
times
more;
and
there
will
be
nothing
new
in
it,

but
every
pain
and
every
joy
and
every
thought
and
sigh
and
everything

unutterably
small
or
great
in
your
life
will
have
to
return
to
you,
all
in
the

same
succession
and
sequence—even
this
spider
and
this
moonlight
between

the
trees,
and
even
this
moment
and
I
myself?”


O
Lucky
Man!
is
the
cinematic
image
of
the
“eternal
recurrence”
that
Nietsche

describes.
In
it
Nietzsche’s
demon
makes
itself
present
visibly
to
Mick
(and
to
us)

and
its
message
almost
obliterates
him.
As
he
walks
the
streets
of
London
at
the

movie’s
close,
his
despair
and
sense
of
defeat
even
seem
to
find
echoes
in
the
world

around
him.

In
Leicester
Square
an
electronic
newscaster
which
circles
a
nearby
building

broadcasts
in
words
which
flow
along
its
length:


UNITED
STATES:
THREE
YOUNG
MEN
HAVE
BEEN
FOUND
SHOT
DEAD
IN
A
NEW

YORK
.
.
.
.


SOVIET
AIRLINER
CRASHES
AT
ROME
AIRPORT—NO
SURVIVORS


TROOPS
AND
TERRORISTS
CLASH
IN
BENGAL
FAMINE
AREA


But
as
Mick
moves
on
toward
his
fated
meeting
with
the
movies
a
strange
thing

happens:
the
words
on
the
newscaster
begin
to
accelerate,
moving
with
great
speed

left
to
right
on
the
screen
and
around
the
corner
of
the
building,
until
finally
they

become
only
a
blur
vanishing
into
the
void
at
the
right
of
the
screen.
With
them

disappears
as
well
the
presence
of
the
world’s
tragedy,
and
as
they
approach
the

speed
of
light
something
else
vanishes
as
well:
verbal
narration.

Throughout
the
film
words
have
often
told
us
what
to
think
about
the
events

taking
place:
titles
have
informed
us
(as
during
the
opening
sequence
and,
farcically,

during
Mick’s
imprisonment);
and
the
radio
had
talked
to
us
and
to
Mick
of

enlightenment,
an
experience
all
practitioners
of
Zen
and
even
Wittgenstein
agree
is

The Collected Works of David Lavery 7

beyond
words.
But
with
these
words
on
the
newscaster
becoming
light,
the
stage
is

set
for
another
phase
of
Mick’s
education,
directed
not
by
words,
however
sound

their
wisdom
might
be,
but
by
images
and
the
movies.

Mick
is
welcomed
at
the
audition
as
if
he
were
expected.
The
props
of
his

previous
life,
his
books
and
a
machine
gun—atavisms
from
If
.
.
.
—are
ready
for
him.

But
in
order
to
smile,
an
ability
which
had
earlier
won
for
him
the
plaudits
of
Gloria

Rowe,
Imperial
Coffee’s
“psychologist,”
and
gained
him
the
chance
to
begin
his

journey,
he
demands
from
his
director
a
reason
for
it.
Like
the
computer
HAL
in

Kubrick’s
2001,
whose
last
words
(part
of
the
lyrics
of
“Daisy”)
are
“give
me
your

answer
do,”
Mick
wants
his
existence
explained
to
him.
Anderson
wisely
refuses
to

give
it.
Only
the
blow
which
he
delivers
to
Mick’s
head
with
the
filmscript,
within
the

film
itself
no
longer
words
but
only
another
image,
solicits
a
smile
from
him,
a
smile,

like
that
of
Cabiria’s
at
the
end
of
Fellini’s
Nights
of
Cabiria
(1957),
directed
at
the

camera
and,
in
reality,
a
saying
of
“yes”
to
the
medium
itself.
Throughout
the
film

Alan
Price’s
words
have
told
us,
“If
you
have
a
friend
on
whom
you
think
you
can

rely/You
are
a
lucky
man!”
It
is
the
movies
who
have
become
Mick’s
friend;
his
smile

is
a
recognition
of
trust
in
their
narrative
ability
to
free
him
from
the
potentially

labyrinthine
entrapment
of
his
story.

Because,
as
Andre
Bazin
observed,
the
movies,
more
than
any
other
art,
are

bound
up
in
love
with
the
world,
they
celebrate
eternal
recurrence;
they
say
yes
to

Nietzsche’s
demon,
affirming
its
news
and
transforming
its
confirmation
into
more

life.
Although,
as
O
Lucky
Man!
illustrates,
they
cross
the
same
abyss
and
enter
the

same
labyrinth
as
does
verbal
narrative,
the
prospect
of
the
terrain
does
not

paralyze
them.
Like
the
koan,
the
teaching
device
so
common
to
Zen
pedagogy,
a

puzzle
designed
to
stop
the
endless
meanderings
of
the
intellect
and
redirect
the

sense
to
the
natural
world
and
the
present,
movies
can,
in
their
very
narrative

structure,
use
the
labyrinthine
nature
of
the
human
mind
as
a
mirror
in
which
is
seen

not
the
abyss
of
the
cogito
and
the
vertiginous
panorama
of
human
failure,
but
a

world
of
affirmation
that
lies
beyond
human
reason
to
capture.
In
a
movie
such
as
O

Lucky
Man!
narrative
is
the
“allegory”
of
the
“perpetual
displacement
from

immediacy”
does
not
require
or
encourage
us
to
remain
with
the
allegory.
Even

though
it
must
hit
us
(and
Mick)
over
the
head
in
order
to
achieve
its
liberation,
it

succeeds
in
“direct
pointing”
(as
Asian
aesthetics
calls
it)
us
back
to
the
visible

creation;
for
the
true
power
of
the
movies,
as
Bazin
clearly
saw,
is
a
kind
of

centrifugal
force.

The Collected Works of David Lavery 8

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