Thesis: Can Whitehead be a brave man?
Inciting Incident: Cutler spikes the traveler’s soup with magic mushrooms.
A Field in England blends its narrative with altered states of mind, hallucinations that expand with magical implication. Cutler uses the mushrooms to make the travelers obedient to his master, the Alchemist, O’Neill.
Some may argue that the death of Whitehead’s commander sparks the catalyst, because it frees him for his mission. But, this is a narrative about Whitehead understanding himself, his own power. Mushrooms throughout the film act as a catalyst for power or submission, and we see what kind of man Whitehead is when he takes them and gives in.
Threshold: The travelers pull O’Neill from a fairy circle.
The travelers are held hostage by Cutler. They’re forced to pull a rope from a stake in the ground, a fairy circle, that has the alchemist O’Neill locked inside. Whitehead submits to Cutler’s authority, and they unleash the alchemist.
What is interesting about this threshold, is the action potential for Whitehead to make a decision. There are three travelers who could easily overpower one. And yet, because of their altered states, they give in. Whitehead too. With the introduction of the Alchemist we enter a new world of magic and ill planets.
Midpoint: Whitehead finds the spot of O’Neill’s treasure.
Whitehead enters O’Neill’s tent. Screams surmounted by shrieks overwhelm the traveler’s ears. Whitehead leaves the tent, leashed by a rope, in the grasp of an otherworldly state.
This is the shakiest of midpoints. We could easily say that Whitehead’s first command of surrender to O’Neill is his false victory. But it doesn’t stick. As the film reaches its end, it becomes apparent that the answer to Whiteheads bravery are not inherently inside of him. He has to give in to another power, the power of an altered state, which unlocks his bravery. Here, for once, we see Whitehead give in and use his power to discover this treasure. As O’Neil says –
“Open up and let the devil in.”
Wine pours down Whitehead’s throat as he vomits three runes. There’s something here in the narrative, that needs Whitehead to submit to a higher power. And here we have the false victory. He spits out the wine – to not break an oath, holding on to his delicate education.
Low Point: Whitehead witnesses the descent of the ill planet, after Friend’s death.
After Whitehead drags Friend to his grave, he himself lies down as if dead, and witnesses the ill planet a second time.
We see the protagonist submit to death. We watch him in a frame tilted world, come into the eye of the ill planet, an eye of death. The conflict he’s faced with – killing O’Neill, is great. But his only other choice is to die a coward.
Climax: Whitehead kills O’Neill.
O’Neill chases Whitehead into the field, where the coward recognizes how his game is played. Strong men swallow the weak. Whitehead devours the mushrooms, which summons a devastating wind. He stands over a wounded O’Neill, admits he’s a coward, and kills him.
Everything that O’Neill has, Whitehead doesn’t. Where O’Neill is strong, Whitehead snaps. But, O’Neill is afraid of what Whitehead is capable of. He swallows a rune that Whitehead vomited –
“We’re brothers now!”
Because he wants to appease him. But Whitehead knows. In a moment where the protagonist could flee, they stand up and finish what needs to end.
Resolution: Whitehead enters a history of brave men, dead and alive.
We watch Whitehead ventures back into the forest he fled from, back into the battle. He finds Friend and Jacob, standing there with eyes gazing back. The final scene, we watch them in a line, inaugurated into a legion of conflict that history cycles through, over and again.
The ill planet isn’t a holy body. It’s a void, an open thing to leap into and be completely forgotten. It could easily have been Whitehead’s death, to die a coward, to recede away. But he chose to fight, just as Jacob and Friend chose to. In doing so, he enters a line of the dead, all a part of history’s tapestry.
A Field in England is one of my favorite films, and it also shows how metaphorical context changes or doesn’t alter the nature of the three act structure.
The structure was easy to find, all but the Midpoint which dives a little too much into metaphoric value for me to like. Not from the standpoint of the film, (it has important value), but from the standpoint of locating the structure.
It’s incredible that I didn’t have to bring up the breaking of the black plate – which incites the ill planet and warps the nature of time. I didn’t have to bring up Friend’s revival, along with his skull in the dug pit. It goes to show how the structure of a film doesn’t dampen a film. It allows it to stretch its limbs while remaining a narrative that throws itself forward.