“I think you are the most proper lady I have ever met.”
“I take that as a compliment.”
I Know Where I’m Going! is an interesting beast. Conceptualized and written in a mere week’s time, the film was released in 1945 and garnered mostly positive reviews from the critics of the time. It was written and directed by the filmmaking duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who started work on the movie only because they were unable to acquire the Technicolor film required to make their next piece, A Matter of Life and Death. What started as a project to pass the time ended as a classic, and one of the duo’s most celebrated works.
The plot of I Know Where I’m Going! feels like a folk legend wrapped in a period piece with some pastoralism and coming-of-age-iness thrown in. We are introduced to the story’s main character, Joan Webster, in a montage which makes heavy reference to the film’s title. What the narrator makes apparent to us is that Joan wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth (maybe something more like copper), but still has a taste for (or maybe more like an obsession with) the “finer” things in life. She knows where she’s going, as the narrator says, and that place is in the arms of whatever man is rich enough to feed her fetish for the high life. As Kanye might say: I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger, but she ain’t messing with no poor British gentlemen.
The story truly begins with Joan setting off on a journey to the fictional Scottish island of Kiloran, where she is to marry some rich asshole and live happily ever after. Bursting with anticipation, she can do nothing but dream of what her life will be like married to high society. She ends up on the Isle of Mull -- one simple boat ride away from Kiloran -- when her trip is derailed by storms which prevent passage. It’s here where she meets Torquil MacNiel*, an officer in the Navy who is on leave. Torquil immediately falls for her, but she barely notices as she can think only of finding a way to get to Kiloran to marry a giant sack of money. From there, she spends the rest of the movie shitting on the locals (including a great scene where she bribes a teenager into sailing unsafe waters) and being mostly blind to Torquil’s advances. Spoiler alert: they end up together.
After viewing I Know Where I’m Going! for the first time, I felt a bit perplexed. Joan and Torquil do end up together in the end, but Joan never seems to fully redeem herself for being a materialistic jerk for the entire movie. Even after Torquil saves her from certain death, she’s still set on travelling to Kiloran and bedding Rich Uncle Pennybags. She even has the nerve to ask for a parting kiss from Torquil, which I’m sure gave the poor bastard an epic case of blue balls. Yes, it’s true that she does come back to him in the end, but that's only because Torquil activates some odd family curse which dooms him to be chained to a woman for the rest of his days. So what gives? That seems like a shitty deal for everyone. Joan does have a last minute turnaround where she suddenly wants to do poor people stuff like fish and swim in the ocean, but it felt a little forced. Expecting an “a-ha” moment, I was unsatisfied and nonplussed. I really prefer to be satisfied and plussed, so I slept on it.
Whenever I view a film that’s considered a “classic” and I don’t love it immediately, I try to find reasons why others might consider it as such. Sometimes that reasoning leads to an “I don’t like it but I get why others do” attitude, and other times it leads to forced interpretations that make me feel like I’m jamming the square piece in the star cutout. The brilliance I found in I Know Where I’m Going! was not from what was in the movie, but what was left out.
For me, this is a film about the pursuit of happiness, and the insane lengths that people will go to achieve it. It asks whether or not happiness is attainable, or even worth attaining. Joan spends her existence wanting a life that she’s never had, and barely tasted. She is so set in thinking that this is what she needs that she can justify endangering the lives of others for her own sake -- all for a guy she’s never met, who sounds like a fuckwad in the brief scene where you hear him converse. Poor Torquil falls for a woman who believes him in the same social tier as a toadstool. Despite that, the man willingly activates a terrible family curse to get her, and we’re left to wonder whether it was worth it.
I’m thinking probably not. Otherwise that was a pretty lame curse.
*If I ever have kids, I’m totally naming my first son Torquil.
Steve DeMartino is an ancient demon awakened from eternal slumber by careless archaeologists. He plans to someday enslave the human race, maybe when it gets a little warmer outside. Likes: tea parties, death metal. Dislikes: Tea Parties, butt rock.