Blog Directory CineVerse: Charly that good and plenty film

Charly that good and plenty film

Thursday, January 23, 2020

"Charly," starring Cliff Robertson in an Academy Award-winning performance, still has a lot to teach us nearly 52 years after its original theatrical release. That's a testament to the evergreen nature of its source material, written originally by Daniel Keyes. We dissected this flick at length last night during our CineVerse meeting. Here are the major conclusions from our not-so-clinical case report:

What struck you as curious, distinctive, remarkable, or problematic about this film?

  • It can feel like a dated artifact of its era, with its late 1960s aesthetic trappings; yet, it explores themes, ideas, and sociocultural questions that are timeless.
  • Some of the cinema verite stylings (which favors a realistic, almost documentary-like approach) and visual effects are advanced and inventive for their day – such as the use of split-screen as a substitute editing device as well as multi-screen montages. The filmmakers must have been inspired by techniques and approaches used by French new wave directors.
  • This would have been a controversial and somewhat pioneering movie for its time, considering that Hollywood rarely depicted mentally disabled characters or related topics prior to 1968.
  • The choice of composer and score is interesting, as the music is composed by Ravi Shankar, lending the film a curious jazzy and eastern flavor.
  • The film was also a showcase for lead actor Cliff Robertson, perhaps a vastly underrated Hollywood thespian who won the Best Actor Academy Award for this performance.
  • It’s hard to believe that Alice would want to be romantically involved with Charly after he stalks her and attempts to rape her. It’s also implausible that she would say to him, “you think anyone would ever want you, you stupid moron?!”

Themes crafted into Charly

  • The dangers of playing God: The doctors experimenting on Charly are, some will argue, circumventing nature and the will of God by trying to artificially make Charly smarter. A side lesson here is that nature has a way of outsmarting science; there are so many things about this world that we don’t and may never understand.
  • Emotional intelligence doesn’t grow in proportion to intellectual intelligence: We see how, despite being intellectually smarter, Charly struggles socially and emotionally. A human being needs both a head and a heart.
  • Coming to terms with and acknowledging our own mortality and its limitations.
  • A person is more than a sum of their memories and past experiences; a human being is also defined by what he or she is currently experiencing and their capacity for growth and change.
  • We can’t escape our past or our true natures; they will always be a part of who we are.
  • True love is letting go. These are the words Alice speaks to Charly, and they prove to be a foreshadowing statement on what Charly decides to do at the story’s end: let Alice go so that she’s not forced into the role of his sympathizing caretaker.
  • Mentally disabled individuals are worthy of respect, courtesy, and dignity. This movie raises questions about the way disabled people are often regarded and treated.
  • We each have dual sides to our nature and personality.
  • Ignorance is bliss. Consider that, despite being intellectually limited, Charly seems happy and joyful at the beginning and very end of the film. The last shot we see of him, he is playing merrily with children on the playground.

Other movies that come to mind after watching Charly

  • Rain Man
  • I Am Sam
  • Sling Blade
  • Awakenings
  • Still Alice

Other films directed by Ralph Nelson

  • Lilies of the Field
  • Requiem for a Heavyweight
  • Once a Thief

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