Written by Colin Edwards
Last night I watched William Wyler’s adaptation of John Fowles’ ‘The Collector’ (1965) where a young bank clerk, Freddie, kidnaps a young art-student, Miranda, and keeps her prisoner in the cellar of a country house. He doesn’t want to kill or assault her; he simply wants her to get to know him. He’s not very good with people you see, preferring the company of dead butterflies which he collects and displays. Understandably Miranda doesn’t want to get to know Freddie and wants only to escape, but will she get the chance? Even if she does get the chance then will she take it? What are the barriers that stop us leaving an abusive relationship? Physical or psychological? More unnervingly, do we actually want to leave when given the chance?
‘The Collector’ is a very good film and one that straddles interesting territory. It’s post ‘Psycho’ yet pre-empts Stockholm Syndrome (first termed around 1973) as a focus for drama as this movie is very much (in fact, purely) about Freddie and Miranda’s relationship.
This film feels on the cusp of so many things. Made slap bang in the middle of the 60s, and following both ‘Psycho’ (1960) and ‘Peeping Tom’ (1960) by a good four years, it feels both older and newer than its predecessors. The filmmaking style feels more restrained (which is appropriate) and old-school yet it also doesn’t opt for the typical psycho-sexual explanation for Freddie’s behaviour that could’ve been the clichéd way to go, allowing Fowles and Wyler to address something more subtle and identifiable – the violence we can inflict on each other because of our need for “love”. It’s not the urge to kill (although the urge to destroy is there) or ravish but to be wanted, something we can all identify with. Also, once the “relationship” between Freddie and Miranda is established the thoughts, feelings and interactions they have are those that can exist in any relationship. You don’t need to be a psycho to get this film; maybe just married. This makes Freddie less of a monster but, hence, also way more dangerous. This ambiguity means there are plenty of moments where our sympathy shifts leaving us wondering just who is torturing who. Although, when it boils down it, it’s pretty obvious (he torturing her!).
It’s also shot in a way that suggests modernity for that time, sometimes lapsing into colourfully gothic displays with some Mario Bava style lighting and design making it feel almost like a British Giallo. And the fact it seems that Freddie’s father, like happened to so many young men at that time, had died during the War emphasises this British tone, really giving the film a unique feel in both time and place and Wyler does a great job with all this.
Yet the story is still full of typical Fowlesian obsessions: natural history; manipulation; narrative sleight of hand; the delusional aspect of love; a certain snobbery regarding literature; the hierarchy of class; the possible stirrings of the author’s massive ego bubbling under the surface, etc. Having not read this Fowles novel it has made me curious to possibly check this one out.
Back to the film and the performances are great. Terrence Stamp is creepy as anything as the pathetic Freddie pulling our sympathies this way and that, sometimes vulnerable and sad, other times a knot of destructive darkness. If you ever wondered if the dashing and handsome Stamp could look as pathetically desperate as Peter Lorre then just watch this. Although it is Samantha Eggar as the captive Miranda who possibly steals the show with a whole host of emotions readable on her face at any one time. We know what she’s thinking but we don’t want Freddie to catch on too. Don’t emote too much Miranda!
And the ending? It’s pretty cool and very unexpected. It’s not that our allegiances shift (we always want Miranda to escape after all) but we’re more not wanting her to resort to desperate, albeit understandable, measures to obtain that freedom. But maybe she should? What a pickle! And all because of “love”. The climax also had me thinking of ‘American Psycho’ (2000) a little and not just in having certain truths revealed but also the question of whether or not society at large will even notice or care. It’s very chilling and extraordinarily bleak and very effective.
‘The Collector’ is a smart, intelligent and genuinely disturbing film. If you like ‘escape from capture’ types of film such as ‘Misery’ (1990) or psychological battles of will then you’ll find a lot to enjoy here.