1965 thriller The collector is an American-British psychological movie filmed fifty years ago. The film is based on the 1963 novel “The Collector” by John Fowles and directed by William Wyler. A great idea was to start a film with episodes of catching butterflies. The film is about a man, or rather a monster, who can’t just admire beauty with his eyes, he wants to fully enjoy, subdue and hide it from everyone. A true collector! This instance of moral ugliness though considers himself a connoisseur of beauty, in fact is empty and rotten.
To say that the novel by John Fowles ‘The Collector’ hooked me – to say nothing. It is hardly possible to break away from it for a long time, as the main and secondary characters cause a lot of conflicting emotions. They are real, life is not sketchy, it is multifaceted. At the center of the story – a kind of psychological resistance of a typical “little man”, the small clerk Frederick Clegg (Freddie) and a young representative of Bohemia, artistic high school student Miranda Grey. These two are arguing not only with each other. They argue with society, and … themselves. The story is framed in the form of two diaries – one written by Freddie, the other – by Miranda. This added complexity for the director and screenwriter who risked to film work. The result – The Collector – one of the best thrillers of all time.
Quotes from the novel by John Fowles ‘The Collector’:
That was the day I first gave myself the dream that came true. It began where she was being attacked by a man and I ran up and rescued her. Then somehow I was the man that attacked her, only I didn’t hurt her; I captured her and drove her off in the van to a remote house and there I kept her captive in a nice way. Gradually she came to know me and like me and the dream grew into the one about our living in a nice modern house, married, with kids and everything.
It haunted me. It kept me awake at nights; it made me forget what I was doing during the day.
I thought, I can’t ever get to know her in the ordinary way, but if she’s with me, she’ll see my good points, she’ll understand. There was always the idea she would understand.
At the end of August, the men moved out and I moved in. To begin with, I felt like in a dream.
All this time I never thought it was serious. I know that must sound very strange, but it was so. I used to say, of course, I’ll never do it, this is only pretending. And I wouldn’t have pretended even like that if I hadn’t had all the time and money I wanted. In my opinion a lot of people who may seem happy now would do what I did or similar things if they had the money and the time. I mean, to give way to what they pretend now they shouldn’t. Power corrupts, a teacher I had always said. And Money is Power.
I could go on all night about the precautions. I used to go and sit in her room and work out what she could do to escape. I thought she might know about electricity, you never know with girls these days, so I always wore rubber heels; I never touched a switch without a good look first. I got a special incinerator to burn all her rubbish.
She came out alone, exactly two hours later, it had stopped raining more or less and it was almost dark, the sky overcast. I watched her go back the usual way up the hill. Then I drove off past her to a place I knew she must pass. It was where the road she lived in curved up away from another one.
I had a special plastic bag sewn in my mac pocket, in which I put some of the chloroform and CTC and the pad so it was soaked and fresh. I kept the flap down, so the smell kept in, then in a second I could get it out when needed.
I could see there was no one behind her. Then she was right beside me, coming up the pavement. Funny, singing to herself. I said, excuse me, do you know anything about dogs?
She stopped, surprised. “Why?” she said.
It’s awful, I’ve just run one over, I said. It dashed out. I don’t know what to do with it. It’s not dead. I looked into the back, very worried.
“Oh the poor thing,” she said.
She came towards me, to look in. Just as I hoped.
There’s no blood, I said, but it can’t move.
Then she came round the end of the open back door, and I stood back as if to let her see. She bent forward to peer in, I flashed a look down the road, no one, and then I got her. She didn’t make a sound, she seemed so surprised, I got the pad I’d been holding in my pocket right across her mouth and nose, I caught her to me, I could smell the fumes, she struggled like the dickens, but she wasn’t strong, smaller even than I’d thought. She made a sort of gurgling. I looked down the road again, I was thinking this is it, she’ll fight and I shall have to hurt her or run away. I was ready to bolt for it. And then suddenly she went limp, I was holding her up instead of holding her quiet.
I lifted her, she was not so heavy as I thought; I got her down quite easily; we did have a bit of a struggle at the door of her room, but there wasn’t much she could do then. I put her on the bed. It was done.
I said, this is your room. If you do what I say, you won’t be hurt. It’s no good shouting. You can’t be heard outside and anyway there’s never anyone to hear. I’m going to leave you now, there’s some biscuits and sandwiches (I bought some in Hampstead) and if you want to make tea or cocoa. I’ll come back tomorrow morning, I said.
Eventually I went up and went to bed. She was my guest at last and that was all I cared about. I lay awake a long time, thinking about things
I can only say that evening I was very happy, as I said, and it was more like I had done something very daring, like climbing Everest or doing something in enemy territory. My feelings were very happy because my intentions were of the best. It was what she never understood.
To sum up, that night was the best thing I ever did in my life (bar winning the pools in the first place). It was like catching the Mazarine Blue again or a Queen of Spain Fritil-lary. I mean it was like something you only do once in a lifetime and even then often not; something you dream about more than you ever expect to see come true, in fact.
“I promise, I swear that if you let me go I will not tell anyone. I’ll tell them all some story. I will arrange to meet you as often as you like, as often as I can when I’m not working. Nobody will ever know about this except us.”
I can’t, I said. Not now. I felt like a cruel king, her appealing like she did.
“If you let me go now I shall begin to admire you. I shall think, he had me at his mercy, but he was chivalrous, he behaved like a real gentleman.”
I can’t, I said. Don’t ask. Please don’t ask.
I didn’t want to kill her, that was the last thing I wanted.
I never let her see papers. I never let her have a radio or television. It happened one day before ever she came I was reading a book called Secrets of the Gestapo—all about the tortures and so on they had to do in the war, and how one of the first things to put up with if you were a prisoner was the not knowing what was going on outside the prison. I mean they didn’t let the prisoners know anything, they didn’t even let them talk to each other, so they were cut off from their old world. And that broke them down.
Of course, I didn’t want to break her down as the Gestapo wanted to break their prisoners down. But I thought it would be better if she was cut off from the outside world, she’d have to think about me more. So in spite of many attempts on her part to make me get her the papers and a radio I wouldn’t ever let her have them. The first days I didn’t want her to read about all the police were doing, and so on, because it would have only upset her. It was almost a kindness, as you might say.
She closed the book. “Tell me about yourself. Tell me what you do in your free time.”
I’m an entomologist. I collect butterflies.
“Of course,” she said. “I remember they said so in the paper. Now you’ve collected me.”
She seemed to think it was funny, so I said, in a manner of speaking.
“No, not in a manner of speaking. Literally. You’ve pinned me in this little room and you can come and gloat over me.”
I don’t think of it like that at all.
“Do you know I’m a Buddhist? I hate anything that takes life. Even insects’ lives.”
You ate the chicken, I said. I caught her that time.
“But I despise myself. If I was a better person I’d be a vegetarian.”
I said, if you asked me to stop collecting butterflies, I’d do it. I’d do anything you asked me.
“Except let me fly away.”
I’d rather not talk about that. It doesn’t get us anywhere.
“They’re beautiful. But sad.”
Everything’s sad if you make it so, I said.
“But it’s you who make it so!” She was staring at me across the drawer. “How many butterflies have you killed?”
You can see.
“No, I can’t. I’m thinking of all the butterflies that would have come from these if you’d let them live. I’m thinking of all the living beauty you’ve ended.”
You can’t tell.
“You don’t even share it. Who sees these? You’re like a miser, you hoard up all the beauty in these drawers.”
I was really very disappointed, I thought all her talk was very silly. What difference would a dozen specimens make to a species?
“I hate scientists,” she said. “I hate people who collect things, and classify things and give them names and then forget all about them. That’s what people are always doing in art. They call a painter an impressionist or a cubist or something and then they put him in a drawer and don’t see him as a living individual painter any more. But I can see they’re beautifully arranged.”
“Look, what you could do. You could . . . you could collect pictures. I’d tell you what to look for, I’d introduce you to people who would tell you about art-collecting. Think of all the poor artists you could help. Instead of massacring butterflies, like a stupid schoolboy.”
Some very clever people collect butterflies, I said.
“Oh, clever . . . what’s the use of that? Are they human beings?”
What do you mean? I asked.
“If you have to ask, I can’t give you the answer.”
Then she said, “I always seem to end up by talking down to you. I hate it. It’s you. You always squirm one step lower than I can go.”
Her breathing had got very faint and (just to show what I was like) I even thought she had gone into a sleep at last. I don’t know exactly when she died; I know she was breathing about half past three when I went downstairs to do a bit of dusting and so on to take my mind off things, and when I came back about four, she was gone.
She was dead. Well, I shut her mouth up and got the eyelids down. I didn’t know what to do then, I went and made myself a cup of tea.
When it was dark I got her dead body and carried it down to the cellar. I know you’re meant to wash dead bodies, but I didn’t like to, it didn’t seem right, so I put her on the bed and combed out her hair and cut a lock. I tried to arrange her face so it had a smile but I couldn’t. Anyway she looked very peaceful. Then I knelt and said a prayer, the only one I knew was Our Father, so I said some of that and God rest her soul, not that I believe in religion, but it seemed right. Then I went upstairs.
1965 thriller The collector
I thought I was going mad, I kept on looking in the mirror and trying to see it in my face. I had this horrible idea, I was mad, everyone else could see it, only I couldn’t. I kept remembering how people in Lewes seemed to look at me sometimes, like the people in that doctor’s waiting-room. They all knew I was mad.
Something broke in me, I lost my head, I rushed out and fell up the stair in the outer cellar and out. I locked the door down double quick and got into the house and locked that door and all the bolts home.
I started thinking how I could do it, how I could go into Lewes as soon as the shops opened and get a lot of aspros and some flowers, chrysanths were her favorite. Then take the aspros and go down with the flowers and lie beside her. Post a letter first to the police. So they would find us down there together. Together in the Great Beyond. We would be buried together. Like Romeo and Juliet.