The Shout

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With The Shout (1978) filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski adapts the neo-Gothic short story by Robert Graves with all of the grim social allegories that defined the “Polish School”. Essentially The Shout is a film about marital infidelity told in the idiom of the modern Gothic. In many ways The Shout can be seen as a precursor to Possession (1981) but with a greater emphasis on English literary traditions.

As is typical of Gothic fiction, The Shout is dominated by the main character’s flashback from a point sometime after the tragic events that will make up the bulk of the narrative. In the case of The Shout, the main character and antagonist, Crossley (Alan Bates), has been committed to a mental hospital where he relays his story to a new orderly (Tim Curry) as they keep the score of a cricket match. The notion of truth within Crossley’s tale is constantly in question within the context of these bookending sequences.

Furthermore the supernatural powers that Crossley appears to possess are derived from experiences living with Aboriginal Australians. In nineteenth century British Gothic fiction it would have been India rather than Australia that loomed large in the back story of the antagonist. However, the locations remain interchangeable in the context of Gothic fiction insofar as both nations were once British colonies that are often depicted as mysteriously exotic within British literary traditions. This kind of jingoism is an essential aspect of the Gothic and positions Crossley in the same literary vein as Heathcliff and Jonathan Small.

But these genre conventions merely function as a kind of allegory as the focus of The Shout is on the principals of fate and justice as well as the moral violence of infidelity. It’s shown early on that Anthony Fielding (John Hurt) is carrying on an affair behind his wife Rachel’s (Susannah York) back. With an Old Testament sense of justice, Crossley employs Aboriginal Australian magics to seduce Rachel. This duality places The Shout in the sphere of heterosexual male paranoid fantasy wherein Rachel and all women function as bartering chips between competing males.

The Shout positions the spectator to empathize with Anthony whose role in his own house hold is gradually supplanted by Crossley. Not only does Crossley hold some kind of powerful seductive spell over Rachel, but his own uncanny scream of destruction out does Anthony’s attempts at avant-garde musical compositions for sheer effectiveness. Crossley’s inherent supernatural prowess and cold demeanor casts him as a specific kind of idealized masculinity that is often typified by a move away from Western Judeo-Christian ideologies and a return to, what in the context of The Shout, could be called primitivism.

As The Shout unfolds conceptually and narratively, Skolimowski busies himself with both creating and maintaining an atmosphere of gradually escalating tension. There is plenty of suspense in The Shout, but there is also a feeling of the uncanny or macabre that permeates every frame. The Shout, in terms of its technical execution, feels as though it could be a dream just as easily as it could be the distorted reminiscence of a traumatic event. Skolimowski proves himself a master here and succeeds in creating one of the most disquieting British films of the seventies.