The experience of watching If.... is something like, "oh, a classic English boarding school movie" slowly devolving to, "oh, a psychedelic boarding school movie…" finally escalating to, "OH MY GOD NO STOP!" In Lindsay Anderson's 1968 film, jaded anti-hero Mick (Malcolm McDowell, best known for his turn as Alex in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange) and his loyal friends return to their conservative education, where the prefects serve up amazing mid-20th century posh looks, just begging to be rebelled against. This movie serves as a fascinating marker of the theme of revolution in the '60s, when armed rebellion seemed an viable option against flaccid institutions that refused to die naturally. The transient freedoms of youth are forced into stark contrast with the crumbling rituals of stoic manliness, and as the school-year drags on, harsh punishments are meted out against McDowell's crew.
The film's black-and-white sequences suggest a sort of dream-life, jarring the viewer into questioning what's really happening. As Mick tastes freedom, the outside world beckons to this charismatic young man who still idealizes the role of the soldier. Enforced repression of all things sexual and the pedestaling of colonial tendencies (the school has the boys playing war-games) eventually leads to the infamous final catastrophe. Could even a British filmmaker idealize this kind of school violence today? An American certainly couldn't, and that's all the more reason to see director Lindsay Anderson's masterpiece. —Reid Kurkerewicz