I Know Where I'm Going! February 13, 2017
Life is a game of second guesses and flirtations with existential despair. Not a moment isn’t hindered by over-analyzation and the pondering as to whether the direction being walked toward in our life is the right direction to choose. Periodically do we think we know what we want. But more often do we imagine the person we could have been had we either taken or not taken a certain opportunity. Many touch self-actualization at some point in their lives. But a plentiful amount of others are always growing, exploring. We’re always changing, and when we’ve got one life to live, it’d perhaps be unthinkable to not always be wondering the could-have-beens of our existence.
The heroine of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s admirably earthy I Know Where I’m Going! (released in 1945 in the U.K. and in 1947 in the U.S.) finds herself at an apparently wonderful time in her life. A middle-class woman always having been spirited, enviably ambitious, and, er, knowing of where she’s going, she’s finally reached the perceived pinnacle of her human experience, which is the marrying of Sir Robert Bellinger (Norman Shelley), a wealthy, older industrialist. She has no doubts and she has no deep-seated hesitations — she’s more ready than ever to revel in domesticity and live comfortably albeit apathetically for the rest of her years. Named Joan and played by a marvelous Wendy Hiller, we see an independent, plucky woman who should be traveling the world until the day she dies. That she’s fine with strictly being someone’s wife feels false.
So it only makes sense that her plans unanticipatedly start to feel false to her too as soon as she hits the last part of her journey. Having taken a train departing from her hometown, Manchester, and arriving in the jagged Scottish Hebrides, all she has to do is take a boat from the latter to the fictional Isle of Kiloran, where Bellinger’s property resides. But bad weather keeps Joan trapped at her semi-final location, and that setback allows her to get acquainted with fellow traveler Torquil MacNeil (an appealing Roger Livesey). The man, stately and as free-spirited as she is, attracts her instantaneously. Which is a problem — all this time has Joan thought that marrying Bellinger was her destiny, and here stands a man that matches her in personality and in her lust for life. Maybe all these years she’s loved the idea of being the wife of a tycoon. Maybe all these years she’s loved the idea of settling down. MacNeil, without warning, invites those ideas to rest under a spotlight of apprehension. It’s up to Joan to sort through those intricacies of what she really wants.
We can tell what she really wants from the moment she first lays eyes on MacNeil, but I Know Where I’m Going!, so ebullient and guileless, carries an unprecedented air of naturalistic romanticism that renders it as a noticeably unforced romantic comedy. “I’ve never seen a picture which smelled of the wind and rain in quite this way,” author Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye) wrote to a friend in 1950. And no other description feels as aptly spot-on as this. As the gale winds of its pivotal Scottish isle setting blow as its headstrong characters attempt to make the most of their single chance at life, we’re overcome with a lovely sensation of misty exhilaration. Where most films of its genre exist in a sentimentalized world wherein feel-good inflections are a given (and not necessarily a bad thing when done right), I Know Where I’m Going! sees the beauty in the seemingly mundane everyday and in the average Joe and his underdog friends, championing middle-class living and topping it off with a deeply amorous finish.
It notably contrasts from Powell and Pressburger’s other collaborations in its lack of color and overarching richness. From The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) to The Red Shoes (1948), the filmmaking team has been able to maintain their acclaim over the last half-century as a result of their movies being so tumultuously emotional and substantially rich photographically, whirling together to make thunderous, downrightly gorgeous products. I Know Where I’m Going! doesn’t carry the usually elated stylistics of their other features — it rids of roaring cinematic theatricality and replaces the approach with a drama that feels universal. Strange that it initially was treated as filmography filler at the time of its conception by its makers: it was written in less than a week and was shot while Powell and Pressburger were waiting for a Technicolor camera to utilize for their next, more audacious project, A Matter of Life and Death (1946).
But time and time again do minor works from auteurs prove to be illustrious in themselves, and I Know Where I’m Going! stands among such comparably hidden gems a la Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid (1969), or the Coens’ The Hudsucker Proxy (1994). Take the oeuvre of its co-helmers into account and it may seem subsidiary. But play it as it lays and it’s a distinguished emerald of a film, green and rugged and ravishing. B+