The film's title has a great deal more to do with the plot's central theme than it initially leads us to believe. Certainly, any good movie or novel, or even a bad one for that matter, will hint at the story's main conflict through its title. 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'No Country for Old Men' are beautiful examples. Light in August is another personal favorite. But 'The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea' stretches beyond the confines of being seen merely the name of some forgotten British movie from 1976. It's both an epithet and caption clueing viewers in as to where to place their attention when watching this mystery drama. It also functions as a kind of epitaph, a few poetic words that leave you wondering about the poor soul who was once admired and so fondly thought of when alive. Even now, Lewis John Carlino's film still lingers like a swiftly fading dream, working at making sense of the whole thing.
What the pretentiously long title is hinting at is surprisingly and ironically not Kris Kristofferson's character, the American sailor Jim Cameron. You'd think the whole movie is about him and his experience off the shores of a small English town given the obvious reference. The movie is even promoted, or at least remembered, as an exploration of eroticism and one boy's sexual curiosity developing into a disconcerting perversion. And while elements of that are on clear display, making viewers extremely uncomfortable when the boy watches Kristofferson have his way with Sarah Miles, it's not the story's main concern. The tagline is grossly misleading on its surface, about giving his soul to the sea but his heart to a woman, but they suggest at something deeper when juxtaposed with the title, jumping to the heart of the plot even before we watch it.
All of this (the title and the tagline) is actually from the point of view of the boy, Jonathan, and played with creepily maladjusted perfection by the young Jonathan Kahn. As the pre-teen son of Miles's Anne Osborne, the kid's curiosity and judgment of the world is developing with very little adult guidance and direction. His widowed mother is unfortunately much-too busy with her antique shop, her need for companionship, and feeling unequipped to raising a child on her own. Jonathan seems to find what he's looking for with a small group of nameless boys, a secret society of sorts led by the creepier and much too astute for his own age, Chief (Earl Rhodes). We see Jonathan caught between being a child and slowly growing into adulthood when playing with the three other boys but quickly reprimanded by Chief with the stern cruelty of a bully.
The boys take heed of Chief's scolding of childish things. They listen to his fascinatingly incisive words about the world with the kind of opiate obedience of an unknowingly oppressed mass to their fascist leader. These scenes of Jonathan and his friends are a severe contrast to those of Jim and Anne's passionate affair, contradicting as well as challenging our expectations generated by the film's title and tagline. The secret meetings and conversations are treated by Carlino as a subplot, a drama brewing on the sidelines of what we think the movie to be about, but which, after a while consumes their blossoming love and steals our attention. Before we know it, we are unexpectedly caught in the middle of an alarmingly twisted and shocking tale about a demented inquisitiveness of the world and defining it in the simplest terms as the true nature of things.
'The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea' is a morbidly and disturbingly complex thriller, a wickedly dark coming-of-age fable that evolves at a pot-boiling pace. It asks intriguingly elaborate questions that range from coarse observations on objectivism to simplified understandings of realism, pushing into ontological pursuits for Truth but constructed from a Nietzschean perspective. Ultimately, it's rather bizarre film which I greatly enjoyed but also found it troubling because it mixes many conflicting ideas on the order of things with a romanticized view of the sea and its allure. (Again, going back to the title.) The problem which keeps the film from greatness could be Carlino's desire to remain faithful to Yukio Mishima's original novel. The idealized heroism of the seafaring life doesn't translate all that well into modern Western civilization. But this is a rather minor deterrent in an otherwise unique horror film that will leave you disturbed by the final outcome of the boys' philosophical curiosities.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD25 inside a regular blue case. At startup, disc goes straight to the main menu with still photo and music.
'The Sailor' crashes onto the rocky cliffs with a cloudy and mostly unappealing AVC-encoded transfer that's oddly faithful to the condition of its source. Although the 2.35:1 frame displays a very fine grain structure that's fairly consistent, the picture is also awash with white specks and dirt, showing the occasional tear and scratch inherent to the print. The color timing is visibly off, often distractingly so, with that sort of unattractive yellowish hue that comes from age. Some scenes lean in the opposite end of the spectrum, looking washed out, ruining the palette and lacking in natural skin tones. Contrast is erratic and hotter than normal, creating several spots of posterization and blowing out the highlights. Black levels are strangely decent, but nighttime scenes suffer terribly. Definition and resolution are hit and miss, but mostly promising a great looking high-def transfer if only given the proper restoration.
The dramatic thriller comes ashore with a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that's as equally problematic as the video. Noise, hissing, and warbling are the usual audible culprits throughout, but we have other artifacts present as well.
Although maintaining good consistency in the center of the screen, the lossless mix sounds hollow, with inaccurate acoustics and a befuddling metallic echo that occurs in several areas. This is most apparent in the scene when Anne and Jonathan first meet Jim and are given a tour of his ship. Dynamics are also off-balance and generally muddy, making the music seem flat and creating a terribly grainy piano melody halfway into the movie. While the higher frequencies clip, there's no low end to speak of in the entire track. Dialogue reproduction is intelligible for the majority of the runtime, but several conversations come off shallow with vocals momentarily drowned by background activity in the one hour mark.
This is a bare-bones release.
Based on the novel of the same name by Yukio Mishima, 'The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea' is a uniquely bizarre drama that slowly evolves into a twisted coming-of-age thriller. The 1976 British film from Lewis John Carlino tries to be a provocative, complex piece on a simplified view of the natural order turned disturbingly fascist. The Blu-ray arrives with an audio and video presentation that appears faithful to the poor conditions of the print used. The overall package offers nothing in the way of special features and will likely only attract those familiar with the film or the original novel.