Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975): Peter Has Nothing to Be Proud About

In my senior years, I have become more critical of a film protagonist's moral character.  This relates to the qualities that I have come to tolerate or not tolerate within myself.  A man behaves poorly if he is acts on impulse or acts out of confusion.  Maturity should take a man beyond the confusion and impulsiveness of his youth.  He should be dedicated to rejecting behavior that can do harm to himself or others.

I first saw The Reincarnation of Peter Proud  (1975) when I was seventeen years old.  At the time, I thought that Peter Proud (Michael Sarrazin) was a tragic figure.  Today, I think he's a jerk. 

Proud becomes troubled with visions of a murder.  The murder victim is swimming naked in a moonlit lake when a woman comes up alongside him in a rowboat and bludgeons him savagely with an oar.  Proud eventually realizes that the visions are flashbacks to a past life in which he was murdered by his wife Marcia (Margot Kidder), who lost her mind over his constant abuse.  His past self, Jeff Curtis, distinguished himself as a school athlete and a war hero, but he didn't measure up well as a husband.  He married a woman he didn't like just because her family had money.  He let her know that she disgusted him and he frequently cheated on her with other women.  Curtis didn't have much of a soul.  Now, this soul belongs to Proud.  Can Proud be a virtuous man if he embodies such a dark essence?  This skeptical view of Proud is my first reason to withhold my sympathy of the man. 

My second reason to see Proud as a dubious protagonist is less uncertain.  Proud is having an affair with his best friend's girlfriend, college professor Nora Hayes (Cornelia Sharpe).  Nora expects to have a sex-filled summer with Proud while her archeologist boyfriend Tony is out of the country.  So, like Curtis, Proud would rather satisfy his sexual appetite than behave in morally responsible manner.  Like Curtis, he knows how to gratify his sex partners.  Nora repeatedly compliments Proud on his sexual prowess.  "My students aren't dopes," she tells him.  "They know when their teacher has that well-laid look."

Proud has further visions.  He sees unique statues and bridges that are clues to a specific locale.  Curtis' favorite possession is a luxury car, a 1937 Cord 812 Convertible Coupe.  The presence of the car in the visions and the sort of stylish clothes that Curtis wears identifies the time period as the 1940s.


The bits of evidence that Proud pieces together lead him to Massachusetts, where he meets Curtis' widow (and killer) Marcia and Curtis' daughter Ann (Jennifer O'Neill).  Proud is attracted to Ann and ends up having sex with her.   A. H. Weiler of The New York Times called this "a sort of incest, once removed."  Proud doesn't care.  He tells a friend, "Maybe she was my daughter in some previous life, but she isn't now." It's creepy whether it can be considered incest or quasi-incest.

 In any case, Proud is being selfish and insensitive, clomping around Marcia and Ann's lives for no one's benefit other than his own.  The film has Proud, who is obsessed by his visions, walking around in a thoughtless and guilt-free haze.

Marcia is unnerved by this strange man who has abruptly turned up in her life and eerily displays the mannerisms and habits of her dead husband.  At one point, Marcia overhears Proud talking in his sleep.  He says the exact words that Curtis said to Marcia as he pleaded for his life out on the lake.  She confronts Proud at his hotel room.

Proud has the opportunity to ease the anguish and confusion that Marcia understandably has about him.  But, instead, he bellows frighteningly at Marcia.  His voice sounds deeper.  It is, unmistakably, the voice of Jeff Curtis.  Marcia becomes unhinged again.  Later that night, she shoots Proud, killing him.

Reincarnation relates to the belief that salvation will come to those who have perfected themselves throughout a series of lives.  But we shouldn't hope that we will one day be reborn and get to be a better person.  We should learn to be a better person during the one definite life that we are experiencing now.  This would be  a good lesson for Peter Proud, who seems to be drifting from one life to another without learning a thing.

Reference source

A. H. Weiler, "Screen: 'Peter Proud,' " The New York Times (April 26, 1975).

No comments:

Post a Comment