Petulia (1968) - Richard Lester
Centered around the beguiling relationship which unfolds between San Francisco socialite, Petulia Danner, and a divorced, well-regarded physician, Dr. Archie Bollen, Richard Lester's Petulia is a stark expose of a rapidly changing time in American society, one in which cultural change has led to a clash between traditional and progressive ideals. Richard Lester's Petulia is the type of film that is deeply profound without being overtly philosophical or overly didactic in approach; one which is fierce yet observational, painting a portrait of contemporary life in which the clash of modernization with that of the natural world, detailing how this technological-based progress often can have perjorative effects on the individual, as well as our overall humanism. Aesthetically speaking, Petulia is a dynamic piece of filmmaking, in which the artifice implored by Richard Lester throughout Petulia is outre by conventional cinematic standards. Heavily impressionistic first-and-foremost, Lester's artifice aims to elicit an emotional response, fixating on small details that accentuate the inner-turmoil infecting its two central characters. How Lester documents the hospital which Archie works is perhaps the best example of this; it's a structure bristling with all the latest technological advancements, a model of efficiency that is displayed as cold and impersonal through Lester's impressionistic lens; a choice that tactically makes the patients themselves feel inconsequential, monolithic under the pursuit of technological progress - a symbolic representation of the toxic nature of collectivist culture. Petulia provides the viewer with an outside perspective of 1970s American, with Richard Lester fiercely exhibiting a culture of conflict, where traditional vs. modernity, hedonism vs. puritanical influence, are at the forefront, with the film's two main protagonist's each finding their psyche's in a state of confusion and longing, unsure as to what they want out of contemporary life. Both Dr. Bollen and Petulia Danner are individuals caught up in this change, each characters haunted by emotional alienation, existential dread, and the pursuit of finding meaning in a life surrounded by monotony, efficiency, and materialistic pursuits. Petulia struggles to find her own agency, a character whom is effectively stuck in her circumstances, pinned down by being trapped in the socialite life by her husband and her husband's father. Her carnal pursuits of Dr. Bollen come from an attempt to find such agency; as Petulia has found herself trapped by the mechanisms of traditional, with her husband's power over her derived by his father's deep-pockets which both directly, and in-directly drain her of her free-will. A successful doctor, Dr. Bollen himself has hit a crossroads himself, introspectively stunted by cold, sterile nature of modern contemporary life; he longs for something more meaningful, with all of his success, both financially and socially, unable to fill the void he feels internally. Each of these individuals are what one would perceive as objective examples of successful in American society yet Petulia as a film showcases their internal, existential and introspective struggles; as if to suggest that society, no matter all its technological progress, often skirts the pursuits and desires of the individual, with these two characters, each coming from completely different walks of life, feeling disparaged by the collective weight of societal progress.
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