Last Holiday (1950)

May 03, 2010

Every so often I watch a movie that completely shakes me, and I haven't really come across one quite this unsettling since I watched The Mind Benders last October.

Last Holiday is about a man named George Bird - played brilliantly by Alec Guinness - who finds out from his doctor that he only has a few more weeks to live. On the younger-side of middle age, lonely, no family, working in a dead-end job, Bird cashes in his life insurance, quits his job, withdraws his money from the bank and sets off on a last holiday to enjoy himself while he still can.

When he arrives at the posh, swanky hotel after his one-way train journey, Bird becomes the subject of everyone's curiosity. Who is he? Is he rich? What is he doing here? The other guests soon befriend our mystery man, who becomes a helper and guardian to many of them, offering some money to a woman in need and advice to an aging inventor who could use some tips on improving one of his machines. Before long, he's been offered jobs, consulted a big-wig in the government and won a ton of money gambling. His life has finally become worthwhile, but it's all too late.

I won't give away the ending, but I will say that this is, indeed, a tearjerker.

I am, unfortunately, a troubled thinker. I think way too much for my own good, and overthink and overthink some more. At 23, I've already spent way too much time pondering death and sickness. This movie did nothing to help quell that preoccupation. Instead, I spent all night tossing and turning, wondering what on earth I would do if my own doctor gave me such a blood-curdling prognosis. I'd probably spend the next few weeks crying non-stop; no British stiff-upper-lip for me. And to do it alone, like Bird does in the movie, is frightening beyond belief.

There are scenes in the movie that show Bird waking, dressing, doing the casual things one does every day, after his prognosis. It could be that I was reading deeper into the scene than I should, but I think Alec Guinness moved, took each step, like a man who knew this was it. He just looked so awfully lost, so helpless, so unprepared. Sitting up in bed after a restless night, you could almost read his thoughts "another day. will this be the last?"

I read recently (though for the life of me I can't remember where!) about post-war British films often featuring friendly ghosts or lovely pictures of heaven, as a way of comforting the millions who had lost loved ones in the war. A way of saying, "everything is O.K. your dad is in heaven now, or your son is in this room watching over us" But this film didn't have that same comforting message about death. It was more realistic, depicting Alec Guinness as a scared man, approaching the unknown.

I am not a religious person. I have an overwhelming sense of envy, though, for people who do have an unwavering belief in an afterlife. To be confident that life continues and that after death you'll be able to reunite with all of your loved ones, must be the most comforting feeling. But I wasn't raised this way, and I still find it personally impossible to have any faith that things go on. I see death as the most tragic, devastating thing that can happen -- the end. I fear it more than anything else on this planet, both for myself and for the people I love. And I have no built-in-coping mechanism to help me deal with it when it does happen.

This film, I think, was made for people like me who have a very bleak outlook on the end. No ghosts, angels, heaven or happy remembrances. Just sadness. It is a powerfully depressing film, one that -- at least if you tend to think too much, like me -- will probably affect your mood for days. I couldn't look at anything today - my cats, my parents, myself in the mirror - without thinking of that inevitable end.

However, I recommend the movie highly. Sometimes it does us good to think about things like life and death. I, for one, took two things away from this movie. Of course there were the pesky thoughts about death that have preoccupied me all day, but I also realized that life is way too short to spend it doing routine things that I don't enjoy. We shouldn't wait until we have three weeks left to enjoy our little time on earth. We should do it now. I, for one, am going to make every effort now to make sure that when my time finally does come, I can say - if I can speak through my hyperventilating crying- that I had a very good, rich life.


monty said...

Great post Kate. Definitely has my interest in wanting to watch it. How have you been? Haven't spoke to you in awhile. Hope everything is good. Talk to ya later.

Laura said...

I will definitely be checking out this film. It sounds beautiful and deeply stirring.
And from someone who was raised "that way", death still leaves me quiet and unnerved at times, and that is probably why this film is so intensely moving.
i send you my sincere hope that you find peace.
thank you for sharing these very private ponderings with us.

Nicole Newcomb said...

Excellent review Kate and now you have me desperately wanting to see it. It sounds absolutely intriguing!

Terence Towles Canote said...

A great post, Kate. It's one of the few films of Sir Alec Guiness I haven't seen, and it sounds like I should. I have to admit I do believe in an afterlife, but that still doesn't keep death from being a rather frightening prospect!

Mel said...

This sounds so fascinating! I definitely have to check this film out! Sounds quite sad though :(

Matthew Coniam said...

Fantastic piece: one of the best things you've done. And I'd never even heard of this film, which looks brilliant.
I'm afraid I'm in the same boat as you, faith-wise, and beset by the same obsessive fears.
I'm always thinking about my favourite movies: there is only a certain number of times I'll see the Marx Brothers, say, (actually it's usually the Marx Brothers) and the day will come when, whether I know it or not, I see the Marx Brothers for the last time.
Just awful, useless thoughts like that.
But that's why I try to see at least a couple of minutes of Marx Brothers every day!

Sarah Mann said...

Wow, this was great!
This really looks interesting. I've always been one for ... morbid movies (Can't say that without sounding totally creepy) so this is right up my alley, probably.

Love, the creeper

Joannafesto said...

OMG! I love this blog! I adore Barbara Stanwyck, too.