‘This Sporting Life’ (1963) – film essay

We all have our natural registers and best leitmotifs to talk about our lives, however trite or banal they may seem. The subjectivity of individual experience is more compellingly tactile than the objectivity of the essence. The sporting life of one Frank Machin, a young rugged Yorkshire miner turned rough professional Rugby player, is a fugue of restlessness, passion, love, longing, and sorrow played by his instinctual drive in allegretto from beginning to end in the binary world of black and white. This Sporting Life (1963), directed by Lindsay Anderson, is gloriously innovative in its genre and triumphantly influential in its narrative in the fashion of La Nouvelle Vague, ‘French New Wave,’ despite the unanimous consensus of labeling this film as an epitome of the kitchen-sink film. Shot in blank and white without a glamorous, star-studded cast, nor memorable intelligent lines of the script. The film creates a tactile perception of realism seen through a lens of a celestial telescope as though by guardian angels who are with us but cannot interfere with our lives without divine permissions. We can see not only Frank playing the act but also why he does it the way he does, which makes him less of a hateful jerk but more of a pitiful man unfamiliar with the civil code of behaviors and the gentility of emotional intimacy. This Sporting Life is a powerfully moving narrative of a man confined in a field of his limited vision of the world and disoriented in the sense of purpose in life. The story begins with the segmented flashbacks when Fran) becomes unconscious under the anesthesia in a dentist’s office. However, the numbed pain receptors bring back the painful memories of his widowed landlady and object of love Margaret (played by Rachel Roberts). She outwardly resists against his amorous advances but inwardly fights her temptation to love him in tandem. Frank tries to find a meaning of his existence in life by holding onto Rugby as a vehicle to achieve self-worth and love by sporting his masculinity to the fullest extent possible. Still, he’s not tough enough to endure all of the pain and erase it all as if nothing happened. Frank often stumbles into moments of existential vertigo and even chooses to love his landlady Margaret, but it only plunges him to existential frustration. Franks loves her, in the same manner, he plays Rugby in the field because it is the only best way of showing his virtue of being excellently rough and tough. Rugby is a combatively aggressive sport, tackling and attacking whoever gets in the way for the goal. Still, Frank continues to play the game even outside the field with the attitude and mindset of the sporting Rugby player. The sport becomes his identity, selfhood that dominates his mode of thinking and acting, which Margaret feels too formidable to embrace. So, she also sports her love-and-hate tug of war with her dauntingly masculine lodger equally roughly.

Frank is in a way like Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire in terms of masculine physique and their similar fierce personalities. Yet, Frank, whose love for Margaret is uncompromising and loyal in his outcry in the darkness of aloneness, seems more vulnerable and sorrowful, hence deserving of our sympathy and understanding. His lack of regard for civil manners and the refined cultural taste is forgivable by his churlish naivete and artlessness manifested in his primordial way of dealing with emotions and feelings. This Sporting Life is not a movie about those Young Angry Men whose selfishly cosseted dissatisfaction with the world sounds no more than spoiled children’s whining. It’s about a man who wants to live a meaningful life but knows not where to find it. The film dramatizes one ordinary man’s existential dilemma in search of the purpose in life in defiance of resorting to being a provisional being as a wandering sportsman. This film will imprint the outcry of Frank in your mind’s wall and resonate with echoes of his pain for a long time.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s