I’ve always wanted to walk in the shoes of the unthinking extrovert. The kind of person who appears to have an endless number of close friends but, in reality, goes from person to person depending on how enticing an offer is. Who looks at people as pastimes but not people.
What keeps them awake at night, what their fears are, we can hardly tell: they seem to have it all, being the most-talked-about and most well-liked person in the room that, oddly, no one seems to know. What is it like being a charismatic user? As an introvert who often cares too much, the prosepct fascinates me.
One such unthinking extrovert is Sunday Bloody Sunday’s Bob Elkin (Murray Head), a bisexual artist carrying on affairs with Daniel Hirsch (Peter Finch), a Jewish family doctor, and Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson), an employment office worker reeling from a recent divorce. To Daniel and Alex, Bob is a real-life Jesus, a youthful free-spirit easily able to heal their self-doubts and everyday frustrations. But to Bob, Daniel and Alex are different kinds of delicacies, appetizing only when the mood is right. They’re good times, not individuals with feelings. The second things begin to become real, he drifts to the other.
Daniel and Alex know of one another, and are aware that Bob is using both of them, but, being middle-aged and lonely, would rather continue lying to themselves that their affair is one of love to feel whole. How much longer they can continue to be pieces of meat to be snacked on during times of hunger they aren’t so sure; but the idea of being alone is far too terrifying to admit.
Sunday Bloody Sunday is a coercive character study, one so subtle that we have to find deeper meaning within ourselves, to feel Daniel and Alex’s pain through empathy and not through bouts of overacting. Schlesinger’s direction, choosing understated moxie over explain-it-all, wishy-washy artifice, lets human emotion speak for itself. Like in people we’d find roaming around the streets, announced misery is not something to expect; to look into the eyes, the mannerisms, of such individuals is far more revealing than wholesale melodrama. Released at the beginning of the 1970s, among the finest decades in film, it is one of the many cinematic works of the era that chose to make something extraordinary out of the ordinary, not something ordinary out of the extraordinary like so many pieces released in the decades prior.
It is also particularly seminal for the way it treats homosexuality and bisexuality, which are not presented as taboo but rather everyday — sexuality is unspoken, never alienated. Daniel is a successful doctor who isn’t much bothered by his sexual orientation; Bob is not defined by whom he sleeps with. Because the film normalizes these features and therefore does not make them focal points, we find ourselves watching a character study regarding desperate loneliness, not one mostly out to break barriers for sake of congratulatory award-based recognition. We are enticed by the way it questions how people act when faced with crippling solitude, who they’re attracted to less than important. And that, for being released at a time where anything culturally out of the ordinary was pushed aside, is a major accomplishment.
But I am most taken aback by the performances: the actors are so in touch with their characters that we can identity their personal demons with the ferocity of a clairvoyant. Finch is sensitive and slightly eccentric as a man oppressed his entire life; his character’s relationship with Bob is not pulsing alive with love, instead working as representation of one of the few times in his existence where he hasn’t had to hide who he is. Jackson, as authoritative and articulate as she is vulnerable, provides her character with stark acuity that proves that Alex is so in love with being kissed and slept with that she’d rather ignore reality just to have the sensations continue. Quietly villainous, Head convinces us that his character really is thoroughly unaware of how his narcissistic ways have an effect.
There is no climax in Sunday Bloody Sunday, and there is relatively no designated plot structure of which to speak. It rides on the complexities of human relationships, sexuality, and the lurking torrent of the midlife crisis. It creeps up on us; its emotional impact is extensive but nearly silent. A-