The Many Uses (and Abuses) of the World: “O Lucky Man!”–A Modern Candide

Ah, the many possibilities each day as one moves through life! We go through a lot on our little human journeys. Lindsay Anderson’s 1973 film classic, O Lucky Man!, remains a primer of what happens to many of us as we move from innocence to experience along the road of life.

Mick Travis (played charmingly and sympathetically by a youthful-looking Malcolm McDowell) is a young man moving into the adult world, ambitiously determined to succeed, but he is ultimately a naïve Candide-figure who needs to ‘learns the hard way’, through many scenes and episodes, what too much of life and human nature are truly like, with their many uses, abuses, and manipulations. In the process, he proves to be a gullible ‘babe in the woods’ who is easily misled–a reminder of how many of us get taken, distracted, and agenda-ed by many others in different areas including business and career and by religion, sex, misleading idealism, war, science, money, film, and even our gullible selves. Although Mick is unlucky most of the time, the film shows that a person must be truly lucky to survive the negative pitfalls and machinations of others in this life.

This cynical, but very wise film was based on some suggestions by MacDowell, no doubt, influenced by his own experiences in the film world with Anderson (after MacDowell starred in If.. ) and Stanley Kubrick (after he starred in the controversial A Clockwork Orange), Indeed, this film context is framed by the beginning and end of this movie, ironically reminding the viewer of the uses of and abuses by directors also.

O Lucky Man! is wildly free-spirited, adventurous, wry, hip, unpredictable, and satirical all at the same time, all of which separated it from the pack of other, more straightforward, unconventional movies of the late ’60s and early ’70s. One of the cleverest strokes of aesthetic choice is Anderson’s use of the same actors (notably Helen Mirren, Ralph Richardson, Rachel Roberts) in multiple roles, setting off ironic echoes of deja vu and odd connectedness in life experience.

Another brilliant choice was the use of ex-Animals Alan Price’s totally unique and ironic song commentaries throughout the film. His smarmy and realistic songs like “Poor People” and “Sell, Sell, Sell” expand the ideas of Mick’s episodes and process along the way. Anderson has also seamlessly woven Price and his band into the narrative and episodes as a secondary subnarrative; a band story of the day.

The new 2 disc Warner Brothers DVD is splendid visually and aurally–a real treat for film aficionados, and there several extras including a Price and McDowell commentary, a profile of McDowell, a vintage featurette, as well as the original trailer.

For me, looking back, this classic reflected many present and past moments in my own life. I had no trouble identifying with Mick’s relative innocence and naivete, and with his dramatic collisions between idealism and an often, more sordid, corrupt reality. IMHO, there has never been nor ever will be another satire as clever as this one on the uses and abuses of the world upon an individual in such a funny, focused, timelessly relevant way again. More than highly recommended.

(BTW/  Enjoy the cast party–a delightful, appropriate, conclusive metaphor for actors  and audience alike!)

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