Tuesday, 26 March 2013

No.177 : Walter

Walter at the IMDb

A lightening of the mood now with this happy tale of a mentally challenged man who ends up in a loony bin wiping bums - wait! That’s a terrible fate!

Ian McKellan plays the title role in this film which was made for Channel 4’s first night of broadcasting. Why anyone tuned in for night two is a mystery. The tone is set from the off when a caring mother sets her handicapped son on a wall as a train approaches beneath. Once the train passes and the steam clears (for it is the olden days) she is dismayed to see the lad hasn’t fallen to his death - mother of the year she is not.

We learn this was the highlight of Walter’s upbringing and meet him again as a middle aged man with two less than doting parents. Dad has largely switched off and Mum is as harsh as ever - at least she’s generous with her toffees! Walter can talk a bit but is prone to anxiety attacks and is definitely a bit slow in virtually all departments - expect pigeon fancying.

He has a job in a warehouse; but it’s mostly charity and his fellow workers, including a young Keith Allen, are all cruel to him. Soon Dad is dead and it’s just Walter and Mum. They spend this quality time wailing and slapping and it’s no surprise when Mum pops her clogs too. Well it is to Walter who, rather than accept being alone, moves all his pigeons into Mum’s bedroom to keep her corpse happy.

Eventually social services catch wind, or probably the smell, of Mum’s demise and Walter is moved to a sanatorium. This environment is even worse than home and although he gets a bit of action on his first night from a rapist dwarf it’s downhill from there as bum wiping and patient murders are all he has too look forward too. Can we see some hope in Walter’s tale? or is the message that life is hell and you shouldn’t bother getting out of bed?

I must have seen this film 30 years ago and it was grimmer than I remember. It’s basically some poor sod going through hell for 70 minutes with a five second interlude of pigeon affection squeezed in to offer some respite.

McKellan is excellent as the troubled Walter but it’s such a desperate role that it is hard to empathise with the character. Sure you feel sorry for him but he offers nothing in the way of redemption and you can see why his unsupportive parents can’t wait to shift off the mortal coil. The message, if there is one, is nihilistic at best and at worst an exercise in thinking ‘thank God that’s not me’.

The director, Stephen Frears, certainly doesn’t hold back in the stark reality stakes and if there is a shittier bottom in movie history I’ve never seen it (thankfully). The cast, especially those in the latter scenes in the institution are a terrifying bunch given the environment they are placed. Rapes and slashings are prevalent among the inmates apart from the innocent Walter who tries to grin through it all with his buck teeth. Jim Broadbent shows up as an orderly and is possibly the only half decent person on show.

The film closes with a chat between Jim and Walter where the meaning of life is discussed but for the most part this is a depressing downward spiral that offers nothing apart from an excuse for more Prozac. Wikipedia tells me that a sequel was made but frankly I don’t think I could handle anymore - thank goodness then it doesn’t start with a ‘W’!

W Score 13/23
Best Bit - Dead Mum gets a bird shit makeover

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