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Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall Essay

In this film, based upon a screenplay by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall from a novel from Waterhouse (which written in 1959 influenced by the prevailing theme of the 1950s – the protest of the angry young men), director John Schlesinger creates the fantasized world of Billy Fisher (Tom Courtenay), a young man working at the Shadrack and Duxbury funeral parlor who dreams of becoming a great writer. Julie Christie provides some romance for the awkward clerk.

Denys Coop’s cinematography effectively captures the drab life and imaginative world of Billy’s existence, lending further relevance to the film in real life. Billy is an original character whose fantasy life is funny throughout. Known to his officemates as Billy Liar because he is a compulsive liar, Fisher escapes his dour existence by creating a fantasy life as the military leader of the fictional, semi-fascist state of Ambrosia. This fantasy supplies the power and control lacking in his daily life where he feels trapped in his job at the funeral parlor.

Though chronic lying is not admirable and his coldness towards his family and his fiancees is dislikable trait, still, overall, Billy is an attractive character, and we can pity him as his rather pathetic pretenses are exposed, while still seeing the justness of the exposure. Waterhouse has managed to mirror the basic nature of people: being dissatisfied with what we have and therefore devising all means to be what we dream to be. Billy Liar remains a pleasing counterpoint to the depressive movies Room at the Top (1958) and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960).

According to Gale (1996), this film that was originally a novel led some commentators to place Waterhouse in the Angry Young Men School. It is in some ways a study of provincial dissatisfaction. Our lives are very similar to Billy in many ways, the reality and fantasy of who we are sharply at odds. Most of us live with a family which is the quintessence of ordinariness; so we compensate by a rich fantasy life and, unfortunately, by dishonesty, much like Billy in the film.

Reminiscent of Fisher’s character, we lie our way through life, not out of malice or even out of any conscious desire to cause mischief or to cause hurt to those around us, but purely because we cannot live with, or face up to the demands of, our real lives. The overall mood in the film is, however, disquieting – Fisher’s dreams include killing people, such as his parents, who place obstacles in his way. The film shows that the only real obstacle confronting Fisher is a lack of courage combined with no obvious talent.

Much like in real life, we all have a secret vision of doing the unthinkable, murderous or otherwise, to people we extremely dislike. Our judgment is often clouded by anger for other people, which lead to ineffective use of our God-given talents, which in turn hinders the progress that we otherwise could have achieved easily. Despite its very British setting, the film has a universal dimension which is even more poignant in today’s Internet age.

In a sense, Billy Liar is an adroit satire about a society caught between socio-economic classes. Billy Fisher’s character is therefore struggling against the limitations of his class, family and urban environment for a better opportunity to display his ability. This theme is relevant even today, as we all strive daily to move up the social and economic ladder of society, as a response to our natural trait to be forever dissatisfied.

One cannot help but be fond of and relate to Billy Liar, a unique character that deeply depicts in what boils down to a humorous yet solemn and incontrovertibly influential movie. It is apparent that this film appealed and is still appealing to audiences precisely because Billy’s lack of courage, commitment and his flights of fancy are not so far removed from those of ourselves. Many of us live in dreams where we do spectacular things but given the chance we would not have the courage to accomplish them.

Likewise, the film affirms that, ultimately, we must live with, rather than in opposition tom the real world, no matter how painful and uncertain the experience of that invariably will be. While on one level this film could be dismissed as a whimsical fantasy, there is a Billy Liar that exists in all of us. WORK CITED Gale, S. (1996). Encyclopedia of British Humorists: Geoffrey Chaucer to John Cleese. Philadelphia: Taylor and Francis.


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