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Remains of the Day


USA - UK, 1993

Original Title: Remnants of the Day

Directed by: James Ivory

Adapted screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala


Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, James Fox, Christopher Reeve, Hugh Grant

Duration: 134 min

The Serfdom of Ethics

By Ricardo P Nunes

   Sooner or later, we all end up stopping to evaluate the choices we have made in the course of our lives. Although there is no going back, this accountability may serve to gauge the steps forward. In Remains of the Day, James Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) represents an eminent exception. Maybe because he feels that the accounts won't settle or because he doesn't believe that regret for omission is more painful than that of having acted. A precocious and arduous experience of reality had forced him to choose his priorities in the world, and neither political inclinations nor sentimentality were among them.

   In the midlife throes of a lifetime as head butler of the noble country mansion of one Lord Darlington, there is no place for heartbreak or conscience to distract him from his unswerving dedication to his duties. It so happens that we are in England on the eve of World War II, and despite the stench in the air, no one can yet imagine the proportions of the catastrophe to which things are heading. Much less Stevens, immune in his domestic work to any odor that comes from outside intruding through the cracks of the aristocratic stronghold where his disenchantment had found protection. The mansion's walls delimit a private world, where Stevens' austere silence seems to strangle his agony in remaining indifferent to the calls that, to some extent, can still find an echo within him.


Hopkins and Thompson: Duel of the Titans

   But it also happens that, at the height of his busy retreat, three distinct clamors come to shake the foundations of his invincible lack of empathy: his good boss, that Lord Darlington, turns out to be an influential pre-Churchill Nazi sympathizer; the working conditions and health of the senile father require filial attention; and, most surprisingly, the mansion's no less serious housekeeper, Sally Kenton (Emma Thompson, with whom Hopkins will fight the titans in acting) will gradually try to find loopholes in the formalities of professional ethics to suggest a more intimate and deep that I respect him until he can no longer repress his despair. In his epicurean resignation against passions, Stevens feels that the unshakable integrity of his character was all he achieved in life by his sacrifice, and that it was precisely this attribute that stirred Sally Kenton's feelings.  

   Photography, music, script and James Ivory's masterful direction combine to ensure that its formidable cast knows how to say a lot between the lines. Hence few films with so many possible readings. I only have one uncompromising observation left, but that obviously doesn't detract from the film at all. Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017, the narrative begins in 1954, almost two decades after the central events of the plot, when Stevens travels to meet Sally Kenton again and relive some episodes along the way. That is, who narrates the story in first person is Mr. Stevens, from a diary of his. What happens in the reunion, however, is only the insistent reiteration of his old and incorruptible temper, that is, the same temper that makes him incapable of opening up to us in that way, not only because of his circumspect character, but also for the simple fact that he does not having seen the events as he tells us. That he had found a confessor in a diary was perhaps the only concession he was capable of.

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