THE ASTONISHED HEART
UK, 1948, 84 minutes, Black and White.
Noel Coward, Celia Johnson, Margaret Leighton, Joyce Carey, Michael Hordern.
Directed by Anthony Darnborough and Terence Fisher.
The Astonished Heart is an adult drama of marriage and infidelity, written with superb British precision by Noel Coward, who also wrote the music and acted the principal role himself.
The film is a version of the expert physician, here a psychiatrist, who is expert on helping others, but falls victim to the same human weaknesses, and is unable to help himself. Having no one to help him he finally destroys himself. During the film the psychiatrist quotes the passage from Deuteronomy where one of the curses is said to lead to madness, blindness and astonishment of heart - another version translates this latter phrase, 'distraction of mind'. The film is an intense study of human relationships, a moving and intelligent study of common sad experiences.
Noel Coward is a good actor and is well supported by an excellent cast.
1. Noel Coward entitled the film after a verse from Deuteronomy 28 (verse 29). "God will strike you down with madness, blindness, astonishment of heart, until you grope your way at noontide like a blind man groping in the dark, and your steps will lead you nowhere". How was the film a parable or a sermon of that text?
2. The film could also be a sermon on the text, 'Physician, heal thyself'. How?
3. How important was the flashback technique? Would the film have had less impact if it had been simply straight narrative?
4. How ironic were some of the scenes of Chris's consultations and advice when you knew that he was going to be a victim of the same thing?
5. Were Chris and Barbara happily married? How could you tell whether they loved each other or not?
6. Did Barbara and Leonora like each other at the beginning?
7. When the film opened and Barbara rang Leonora, Leonora appeared as selfish, not to be disturbed. Had your attitude towards her changed by the end of the film? How much sympathy did you have for her by the end of the film?
8. Did Leonora want to make Chris fall in love with her? How did she make him fall in love or was it just a series of chance circumstances?
9. Why could Chris fall in love with Leonora? was he tricked or did he go in with his eyes open? What was his attitude towards Barbara?
10. How did you feel for Barbara when she discovered what was going on? Did she act in the best way by sending them off together? What did she think would be the result? What did she hope would be the result?
11. Why did Chris become jealous? Why was he so unreasonable? Was Leonora in any way to blame?
12. Why did Chris return from Venice? Why did he turn on Leonora? Why did she walk out of the room without listening to him?
13. Was Chris's suicide credible? why did he go to the length of killing himself? Was his life a complete failure?
14. Was the ending satisfactory? What was meant when Leonora told Barbara Chris had said he did not feel submerged any more?