The lead character, Raymond, is a nerdy, reserved professor who is so socially inept that he plays chess by himself. His home is full of books. On his way to school one day. He rescues a young woman who is about to jump from the bridge he is used to crossing every day on foot. She accompanies him on the rest of his commute to university where he is due to teach a class. But she soon wanders out of the back of the class into the great unknown, leaving behind her red coat. he discovers a book in the pocket, and these words leap off the page,
“If it is so that we live only a small part of the life that is within us, what happens to the rest?”[‘A Goldsmith of Words’]
Two tickets also fall out of the book – they are for a train to Lisbon. He decides to board the train in pursuit of this mystery woman he has rescued. . In the process he must leave his life behind. When his colleague telephones him on the train, his parting request is “take are of my books.”
As he continues to read the mystery book, the author reflects on what his life would have been like had he taken a different direction. . Is this not a question that plagues each of us at some point in our lives?
The red coat which figures in many of the subsequent scenes, is a symbolic prop. It may be symbolic of passion, the thrill of danger or just the blood of life. Indeed, each life is a journey (train), , a mystery (book). His suicide rescue mission hands him an unexpected gift – she is rescuing him, in turn, from the prison doors of his own life characterised by isolation, , predictability and emotional stagnation.
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place. We stay there even though e go away, and there are things in us that we can find only by going back there. We travel to our souls when we go back to a place.”
Throughout the film Raymond’s phone keeps ringing, threatening to draw him back to his former life. . He ignores the calls for the most part imply because, his former life holds less and less appeal as he continues on the journey of his new life. He cannot go back to wearing his old pair of glasses, literally and figuratively. They were broken when a cyclist collides with him. This jarring scene symbolises the shattering of his old perception. It is at the Opticians that he gains a new awareness and insight as signified by the prescription of new glasses.
As the plot progresses so looms larger the question which screams for an answer – what is the connection between the suicidal lady on the bridge and the author of the book, Amadeu de Prado. At his graduation ceremony, he gave a speech where he states that he would not like to live in a world where independent thinking is disparaged. It becomes clear that he cherished noble ideals which changed the political status quo.
Finally, as Raymond is checking out of his hotel in Lisbon, the lady on the red coat, resurfaces to thank him for saving her life. She is the grand-daughter of Rui Luis Mendes, ‘the butcher of Lisbon’, and had inherited his legacy of guilt and shame for all the lives he had killed and destroyed during …
Alas, the inner journey is ultimately what matters. “The fear of death could be the fear of never becoming the person one planned to be…” Ultimately, the journeys we take are into our own souls. It takes courage to think, to feel and to live.