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Film / if.... (1968)

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"One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place."
Mick Travis

if.... is a 1968 film written by David Sherwin, directed by Lindsay Anderson, and starring Malcolm McDowell, in his film debut, as Mick Travis.

The film is set at a Boarding School, and is best known for the climactic sequence in which conflicts between the students and the school authorities escalate into outright warfare with automatic weapons.

Sherwin, Anderson, and McDowell collaborated on two further films, O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital; both also feature McDowell as a character named Mick Travis, but they do not constitute a series except in Broad Strokes.

The title is probably a sarcastic reference to Rudyard Kipling's famous poem. If you are searching for the equally subversive and seditious left-wing political cartoon series by Steve Bell, go here. Not to be confused with the video game Shin Megami Tensei if..., which has a similarly-styled logo and also has a high school.

This film provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Powerful Student Council: The Upper Sixth note  "Whips" (prefects), lead by Rowntree, definitely rule the school and have a small army of younger pupils (the "Scum") who do fagging duties for them - making tea, running errands, warming toilet seats, shaving them....and probably other stuff too.
  • Adults Are Useless: The teachers, including the Head-Master, seem fairly oblivious to the goings-on at College House.
  • Axes at School: The film's surreal final scenes show Mick and his comrades taking up arms and attacking fellow pupils, teachers and parents during Founder's Day.
  • Anti-Hero: Mick, who is presented as charismatic and likeable, though he's also a dangerous, anarchic presence at the school, ultimately orchestrating an Axes at School plot to take down The Establishment.
  • Audience Surrogate: Jute. Audiences unfamiliar with the particulars and traditions of British boarding school life are able to follow his bewilderment and subsequent crash-course in protocol as he starts the term at College House.
  • Bar Slide: The girl in the cafe slides the coffees across the bar to Mick and Johnny, possibly in a haughty response to the way Mick tries to flirt with her.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: At the end of the film, in a surreal sequence, Travis' group discovers a cache of automatic weapons, and revolt against the establishment. On Founders' Day, when parents are visiting the school, they start a fire under the hall, smoke out the parents, staff and boys, and open fire on them from a rooftop. Led by the visiting General who was giving the speech, the staff and boys break open the Combined Cadet Force armoury and fire back. The film ends just as "The Girl" shoots the Head-Master through the head - it is never revealed what happened following the uprising.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The Girl shoots the Head Master in the head.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Mick (and friends) are bohemians in the making, with their strong counter-culture sympathies despite having clearly upper-middle class social backgrounds.
  • Break the Haughty: Mick and friends regularly take the snotty Denson and power-hungry Stephans down a peg or two, even though both can technically order them about in their role as Whips (prefects).
    Denson: (showing the badge on his lapel) I serve the nation. You haven't any idea what it means, have you? To you it's one bloody joke.
    Travis: You mean that bit of wool on your tit?
  • Bully Hunter: Mick and Johnny Knightly, who never take any shit from the prefects.
  • Butt-Monkey: Biles is a plain, gorky kid, and subject to the most bullying from his fellow pupils — at one point being set upon in the school lavatories and dunked in head-first.
    Pass it on - "Biles, why are you a freak?
  • Captain Oblivious: When General Denson gives a speech to the school on Founders Day, he does not notice smoke coming out of the floor until long after people have started coughing and are leaving the room.
  • Cool Teacher: At first, the History master, with his eccentricities, and exhortations to his class to debate with him, looks as if he is one of these. His reaction to Travis demonstrating he actually knows the source of a quotation says otherwise.
  • Corporal Punishment: There's a lengthy scene in which Mick and his friends are caned by the prefects. Afterwards they have to shake the prefect by the hand and thank him — a common tradition in public schools, apparently.
  • Covert Pervert: The apparently meek Mrs. Kemp enjoys walking naked through the boys' dormitory and washroom while fondling soap, towels and other objects the boys have carelessly strewn about.
  • Dartboard of Hate: There is a scene of Travis shooting a dart gun at pictures of various authority figures.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Some scenes are in color while most are shot in black and white. Many people have tried to find the "pattern"; some think that the black and white scenes are fantasy or dreams, but others think that the color scenes are. Malcolm McDowell claims that some of the scenes would have taken too long to light properly if they had been shot in color, and then other scenes were shot black and white to add "texture". But another view is that the filmmakers ran into money troubles halfway through shooting and so had to shoot the rest of the scenes in black and white.
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Rowntree says "Don't call me sir" to the new boy Jute, as Rowntree is a prefect rather than a teacher, but is certainly not renouncing any authority, as there are many, many other protocols.
  • The Dragon: The newly appointed dormitory prefect Stephans acts as one of the Whips, ordering around his fellow pupils, which results in a lot of resentment from Mick and co.
    Travis: One night we're gonna massacre you, Stephans - I'll do ya for free.
  • Ear Ache: When Mick, Wallace and Yardley discuss really horrible ways to die, Yardley mentions getting a moth caught in your eardrum, and being able to hear it eat into your brain.
  • False Reassurance: To placate the understandably nervous head-master of the actual school used for the film's location, the filmmakers sent the school a fake script omitting the students turning on the staff and parents with guns.
  • Fish out of Water: Jute finds the environment of the boarding school totally alien and struggles to fit in.
  • Flynning: Done deliberately when Travis, Cox and Knightley get into a sword fight more or less for the hell of it and tear around the school flynning for all they're worth.
  • Foreshadowing: As the pupils return at the start of a new term, Travis arrives with a suitcase on his shoulder, wearing a black hat, with a black scarf across his face to hide his moustache. Stephans comments, "God, it's Guy Fawkes back again", hinting at the conclusion of the film....
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: The cold-mannered prefect Denson wears glasses and lords it over his junior pupils with detached, sneering cruelty.
  • Gainax Ending: During the Founders' Day commencement speech, a fire starts and all the attendees run out. Mick and the Crusaders set off explosions and fire into the crowd. This changes when the crowd including a priest, a general and a knight get rifles and start firing back at them. The Headmaster calls for a ceasefire, but The Girl shoots him in the head. The film ends on the two groups firing at one another, with the ground mysteriously cleared of bodies.
  • Hand Cannon: The Girl uses a small handgun to shoot The Headmaster, with a single shot, compared to much bigger rapid-fire weapons everybody else is using..
  • I Don't Pay You to Think: The younger pupils or "scum" who wait on the older "whips" are certainly not expected to think for themselves.
    Rowntree: What are these?
    Philips: Muffins.
    Rowntree: I thought I specifically ordered crumpets.
    Philips: I couldn't get any, I thought these would do.
    Rowntree: It's not up to you to think.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: During the ending, the Crusaders and the Crowd tend to miss. Possibly justified due to the surrealism of the scene (even people who fall over get back up) and that both groups are mostly inexperienced with these types of weapons.
  • Insistent Terminology: Brunning drills Jute for a test on protocol and school terminology, frantically insisting on the exact wording and correct intonation, telling him it's not just a matter of what he says, but how he says it.
    Jute: (tentatively) Masters, wives, and friends of College.
    Brunning: (shouting furiously) No!!! Masters, THEIR wives, and THE friends of college!!!
  • Longing Look: One of the more controversial scenes (at the 1968 release) involves Philips checking out Wallace as he performs on the high bar. The use of a young boy, shot in slow-mo to accentuate his beauty and the sexual tension, was incredibly risqué for 1968. note 
  • Love at First Sight: Philips and Wallace have apparently never met, but Wallace has presumably seen Philips around and been attracted to him. Philips then falls for Wallace when he sees him perform a gymnastics routine. They start meeting secretly.
  • Lover and Beloved: Wallace has a relationship with the younger Philips, of whom he's protective, but who seems to be a more mature person than his lover.
  • Mind Screw: While undoubtedly a surreal film, it starts becoming this trope after the cafe scene, with scenes of doubtful reality, such as the girl riding standing up on the motorbike.
  • Ms. Fanservice: "The Girl" is HOT, looking not unlike 60s beauty Christine Keeler, and Travis is instantly smitten, flirting with her and then engaging in rough sex on the floor of the cafe where she works.
  • One-Gender School: All boys, which leads to parallels with military and hierarchical business institutions common to the United Kingdom, as well as Situational Sexuality being a prominent aspect of the plot.
  • Pedophile Priest: A middle-aged chaplain seems to take an interest in Jute, a pretty new boy in his class, probably 13 years old. The chaplain is skewered by Anderson's satire, as are most of the adults in the film.
  • Pretty Boy: Bobby Philips, with his feminine features and wavy, flaxen hair provides a textbook example and is flirted with and leered at by his fellow pupils.
  • Real Men Take It Black: In the cafe scene, Mick takes his coffee black. He only says "black" just as the girl is about to put the milk in.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Mick delivers a cutting speech to Rowntree, before he is about to cane him.
    Rowntree: Do you have anything to say? Any of you?
    Mick: The thing I hate about you, Rowntree, is the way you give Coca-Cola to your scum, and your best teddy bear to Oxfam, and expect us to lick your frigid fingers for the rest of your frigid life.'''
  • Shower Scene: A bathroom scene features the senior boys showering, all naked in front of each other, and singing loudly, while Denson keeps order. He is sitting in his own bath, drinking tea and being waited on by Phillips, and ordering Yardley, Wallace and Travers to take the two-minute cold showers which he had ordered the previous day. Travers is un-cooperative, failing to stand in the middle of the shower, and Denson makes him stay in for longer than two minutes.
  • Sinister Minister: The chaplain, who is also the geometry master, enjoys grasping at boys' nipples through their shirts while they recite their lessons.
  • Sex Is Violence: Mick and "The Girl" wrestle and writhe around snarling at each other during their highly surreal, animalistic sex-scene.
  • Situational Sexuality: All of the sixth form prefects (and some younger pupils) show an effusive (or uncomfortable) attraction to Bobby Philips, an extremely pretty First Year pupil.
  • Slipping a Mickey: One of the pupils says off-handedly that he's going bald, and wonders if it's something they put in the soup.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse:
    • Bobby Philips is a nice, beautiful boy, who's likely gay. However, because of his beauty he is subjected to serving the prefects every whim, one of which includes helping their leader out of the bathtub, and it's no secret they and half of the school lust after him. It's likely the prefects want to sleep with him (if they haven't already) which is something he doesn't want. He does get a boyfriend of sorts (Wallace) who protects him from the pervy prefects, and they meet in secret and eventually sleep together. But Wallace being much older than Bobby means one day they (canon movie ending or not) will have to separate.
    • Jute is a lovely looking boy who gets molested by his teacher and is put through hell just for being the new kid.
  • Straw Nihilist: Travis has exceptionally strong counter-culture sympathies, that manifest into outright mania as the film progresses, and he decides that everyone in the school, bar him and his fellow anarchists, must die.
    The whole world will end very soon - black, brittle bodies peeling into ash...
    There's no such thing as a wrong war. Violence and revolution are the only pure acts.
    One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place.
  • Surreal Humor: There are many surreal moments, but a very offhand moment is that when the headmaster orders Travis, Wallace and Knightly to apologise to the vicar for shooting him, he opens a massive drawer in his study, in which the vicar is lying.
  • Swirlie: Biles, the dorm Butt-Monkey, is dunked into a toilet.
  • Teens Are Monsters: All of the prefects, with their systematic cruelty to the younger pupils, and sadly by the end, some of the main cast arguably, when they fire guns at the rest of the school.
  • Tone Shift: The first half of the film presents a fairly normal exposé of British boarding school life in 1968.....but things get much more surreal in the second half, following the Café scenes.
  • Truth in Television: Any British ex-public school pupil, even those who recently left school, will recognise elements of their own schooling in the film — eccentric teachers (cycling into a classroom is mild), baffling rituals and rules of precedence, merciless bullying (for those unlucky enough not to avoid it), school-boy crushes, masters volleying homework across the form-room etc.
  • The Vamp: "The Girl", who is mysteriously quiet when first seen, and later speaks seductively to Mick, putting her face very close to his.
    Go on. Look at me. Look at my eyes. I'll kill you. Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror and my eyes get bigger and bigger. And I'm like a tiger. I like tigers. Rrrrah!

Alternative Title(s): If