The Whales of August 3 .

My 4th viewing with a group. Only one of the 7 women present had seen the film before and her comment was very interesting. The first time was at the BFI/U3A study day event 10 years ago.

  • I found it very sad last time I saw it, but less so this time. On first viewing I hated the isolation and loneliness. This time I appreciated the experience more that the two sisters both through, learning what they mean to each other. This time I identified more with the ageing  problems: awkwardness in movement, ungainly , stooping, talking to oneself.   This time I also more appreciated the skill of the film-making, a simple experience used to make a point about life.

Other comments:

  • The film held my attention through. It seemed too much of a set piece for its 4 big stars (of yesteryear) .
  • Language slightly irritating. Tagging names didn’t seem natural, using “dear” stereotypically of how old people speak to each other.
  • Was her talking to Phillip a thing that comes with age – or have she always done this – not clear.
  • Very moving relationship between 2 sisters. One (blind) looked towards death but realised there is still much to welcome in life. New window as symbol of future even though she will not be able to see through it.
  • More like a play than a film. Style of speech overemphatic, loud. Beautiful filming of the sea. Little real signs of ageing – except the blindness, and slower movements. Too American and twee at start.
  • Two sisters have lived their long lives sustained by friendship and memories both happy and sad. The message is never to allow old age to deprive us of hope and a future.
  • A very slow film, as it needed to be, but it dragged at times. Old-fashioned acting styles and many cinematic tropes as well as some accurate observations of the ageing process. Not what I expected from Lindsay Anderson. Actually I did enjoy it.

The exchanges that followed the viewing were focused on ageing and the participants contributed their personal experiences exploring a variety of issues.  Personally I find in this film so many strands that I feel it could be the basis for a series of workshops on ageing. I will repeat here Dr. Depassio saying : le film permet de liberer la parole. 


About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
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1 Response to The Whales of August 3 .

  1. Rita Ferris-Taylor says:

    I viewed this film today and was struck by the relationship between the 2 sisters – the cantankerous, older Libby and the milder Sarah.(in a gentler way, reminiscent of some of Bette Davis’ other films). I enjoyed the interplay between them and their reflections on their past life and current trails and tribulations of old age, manifested in many different ways, including fears about the future and issues of independence/dependency and how these affect family relationships.

    I found the filming of nature beautiful although of course the focus is the main protagonist’s faces, often in close up. I found this interesting because it seemed to me that both Bette Davis and Lillian Gish had been filmed without make-up (or very little) so that their faces as older women were not disguised and were all the more beautiful for it. (Bette Davis had had some strokes in real life by then and these are visible on her face.)

    I was intrigued by Bette’s blindness as some elements of her characterisation could be seen as stereotypes of blindness eg the bitter and twisted person, facing their disability with anger; the blind person who cannot see literally but can ‘see’ more than most what is going on in certain situations (eg the male character’s attempts at freeloading).However, I didn’t feel these were necessarily stereotypical because they could also be seen as the way Libby’s character had been throughout her life and this was alluded to by Sarah. Libby could also be seen as an independent, strong minded person – although needing help from Sarah , she was also portrayed as making her own tea, retrieving her own possessions. While not skirting difficult issues, it also ended on an optimistic note of reconciliation between the 2 sisters.

    Hope to be able to discuss it another time.

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