Films: A Field In England

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A Field In England

A Field In England

United Kingdom, 2013, 90 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Dark Comedy, Drama, Historical/Period, Psychological
Program: Contemporary World Cinema
Language: English

DIRECTOR: Ben Wheatley
Producer: Claire Jones, Andrew Starke
Editor: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Screenwriter: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Cinematographer: Laurie Rose
Principal Cast: Michael Smiley, Reece Shearsmith, Julian Barratt, Peter Ferdinando

A 1977 British miniseries called Children of the Stones featured a scientist and his son who go to study mystical Stonehenge-like monoliths in a small village. Their discoveries unveil sinister magic, provoking a futile escape attempt: every road out nightmarishly leads them back to the center of town.

The same provocative British theme of free will versus predetermination underlies Ben Wheatley’s latest experimental film, A Field in England. Audiences suffer a suffocating sensation as the protagonists walk and walk and walk, never reaching their destination, which turns out never to have really existed in the first place.The focus here is not so much the actual events of the plot but how they happen.

An alchemist, a constipated rogue, a Civil War deserter, and a minstrel all abandon the surrounding battle to cross a seemingly never-ending field to reach an alehouse that promises comfort amid the confines of what their minds interpret as safe. A necromancer turns out to be pulling the strings as if they were puppets all along, and a brush with some hallucinogenic mushrooms opens up the abyss of their minds, creating a frightening liberation. A possible escape for this “illusion” of culture we have collectively created for ourselves? Do we block the Nietzschean big picture out in favor of “safe” daily trifles? Are we agents of free will or merely playthings for the gods?

The majority of screen time is presented in the dreamlike fashion of a Tarkovsky film, perhaps with a speck of von Trier’s Melancholia. “Horror film” may seem a misnomer to those who equate the genre with splatter flicks, but the true meaning of horror addresses the crisis of identity, andA Field in England acknowledges this. For Wheatley, the essence lies in forming an impression rather than providing straightforward answers. Interpretations are relative. Sharing qualities with other notable films featuring “psychedelic” sequences (2001: A Space Odyssey, Altered States), the ambiguity in Field might leave viewers frustrated. Yet those who seek out films that engage the intellect will find the existential allegories here worthwhile.

Don’t expect Wheatley’s newest to compare to his earlier Down Terrace, Kill List, or Sightseers. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, you will leave the picture with a certain feeling in the bottom of your gut that remains long after the credits roll.

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