Oscar and Lucinda (review)

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On Being a Square Peg

A big box of Godiva chocolates. That’s what Oscar and Lucinda (starring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchette) is. Sweet and delightful and rich and satisfying.

Oscar (Fiennes) is an Anglican priest who leaves 1830s England for the land down under as a kind of penance to atone for his gambling obsession. On the ship to Australia, he meets Lucinda (Blanchette), independently wealthy and a fellow gambler, and his resolution not to bet again goes out the porthole. Both are unconventional: He is a fragile naif who shuns the fancy trappings of the priesthood — no purple vestments for him — and sees his phenomenal luck at gambling as the literal intervention of God. She is a woman who dares to live her life as a man might: running her own business, dressing for comfort, and playing poker till all hours. Naturally, Oscar and Lucinda are instant soul mates.
Oscar’s greatgrandson (the voice of Shine‘s Geoffrey Rush) tells us the story of Oscar and Lucinda and how a church building got to a little frontier town in northeastern Australia. It’s a lovelier, funnier, darker, more moving story than I could ever make you believe. And Oscar and Lucinda — and all the other characters, however minor — are so real and memorable that I feel as if I’ve met real people.

One of the more touching scenes involves a little conversation between our two heroes, in which they discuss what it’s like to live outside the bounds of “proper” society. Lucinda’s happy being different and doesn’t care what other people think, but Oscar is uncomfortable with it all and wishes he could fit in with everyone else.

Many, many movies focus on people who are hearing their own drummers — usually, these oddball characters revel in their weirdness and thumb their noses at society. I can’t recall a single other movie in which a character acknowledges how difficult it can be to walk a different path.

I only realized this myself recently. I’ve always been the kind of person who colors outside the lines, and not too long ago I was faced with a choice. To go one way was to follow the more conventional path, and let me tell you, it was pretty attractive — if I was ever going to join the rest of the world, this was the way I would do it. The other way would be harder, less secure, but with far more freedom — I’d be beating out a path myself.

I was having a difficult time deciding — like, the not-being-able-to-eat kind of difficult. I agonized for days. And when I finally chose the road less traveled, I was relieved — and also upset. I was forced to confront the fact that the only way I can be happy and true to myself is to take the hard way. Sometimes I wish that wasn’t true — it’s not easy swimming against the current.

But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna get swept away with the tide.

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