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The Mark

The Moviegoer

By Kathie Amatniek

For once a movie has been able to handle mental illness and sexual aberration from a perspective that is as natural as it is sensitive. Too frequently such movies depend entirely on the theme for their success. And too many also lapse into a slightly righteous indignation at the brutal misunderstanding of the so-called healthy world without ever sympathetically coming to grips with the tension implicit in the vague difference between normality and abnormality. Others have simply over dramatized the sensational aspects of the problem. The Mark manages to avoid these pitfalls. With a great deal of insight and considerable taste, it illuminates the crisis of a rehabilitated sex offender's adjustment to a normal environment.

At stake is the future of a man who has almost completely recovered from an illness which distorted his unfortunate emotional experiences in childhood into a grotesque attitude towards women and sex. After a period of intensive group therapy in prison, he has been released on parole and placed, with the help of his analyst, as a junior executive in an expanding firm. Now he must prove his ability to sustain his equilibrium in his new life.

It is the blurred line between the young man's images of past and present, the strain of his relationships with the people he knows now and those he remembers, that produces tension. With his analyst and employer, each aware of the young man's problem and each professionally involved in the prognosis, he can relax. But he begins to falter at the recognition of the curious parallel between his present landlady and her husband, and his childhood family. Yet the final test comes from the woman who loves him and her young daughter; for he is forced to obliterate once and for all the distortions of his past identifications with women and love.

Because the world the young man confronts now is superficially similar to the one which before his illness held only horror for him, the danger of overwhelming memory lurks in every familiar image. This is conveyed by simple vignettes steeped in meaning in terms of his past associations. On the wall of his boarding house room hangs Gainsborough's "Blue Boy", the same painting that was his mother's favorite when he was a boy. To him the painting symbolized his position in a family in which he was the protected baby brother of five older sisters, the darling of his mother. Scenes of the into flashbacks of his parents' fights and his antagonisms young man's landlady arguing with her husband fade towards both of them.

Recurring images of his nightmarish past blend into the impressions of his daily life. The camera does this well. Because the remnants of old fears and frustrations are expressed as visual symbols, it becomes difficult to distinguish the young man's dreams from his present reality. Across from his rooming house is a playground of his nightmare, the same voices of children, the same little girls jumping rope. Even the daughter of the woman he loves bears a striking resemblance to his former victim. This is so convincing that the man although both are rationally aware that all the audience itself adopts the distorted viewpoint of the similarities are imagined.

In the end it is his friends, each in a particular way, who fail, not the young man himself. For in their reactions to the knowledge of the young man's past, their own fears and weaknesses appear.

Thus, the movie is concerned not only with the young man's problems, but also with those produced in apparently stable individuals by their confrontation with the concept of abnormality.

This British film is neatly made. Although the plot is simple there is considerable depth to the sequences and the action never drags. All the actors give excellent performances. If some of the characterizations are a little exaggerated, the snooping newspaperman, for instance, or the analvst in his group therapy sessions, this is so slight as to actually add to the movie's credibility. Certainly the movie is well worth seeing.

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