Night Train to Lisbon

Jeremy Irons portrays Raymond, a nerdy, reserved professor who is so socially awkward that he plays chess by himself. His home is spilling over with books suggesting that he seeks refuge in books to compensate for his social detachment. On his way to work one day, he rescues a young woman who is about to jump from a bridge he traverses on foot each day on his commute. 

If it is so that we live only a small part of the life that is within us, what happens to the rest?” These words leap off the page from the book he finds in the red coat pocket of the woman he rescues. She accompanies him on the rest of his commute to the college where he is due to teach a class. But she soon wanders out of the classroom back into the great unknown, leaving her red coat behind. And so the mystery begins – not just the mystery of the woman with the red coat on the bridge, but the mystery of life in general. 

Two Tickets fall from 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 own life. It becomes clear that he would not have pursued her if there was no book involved. When his manager telephones him on the train, his parting request is “take care 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 interpreted as symbolising ‘passion’ or the thrill of ‘danger’, but it can be most logically ascribed to the theme of ‘life’. Each life is a journey (train), a mystery (book). In rescuing this stranger from death by suicide, it seems that he is rescuing himself from the prison doors of his own life characterised by isolation, sameness and predictability, and emotional paralysis.

”We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place. We stay there even though we 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…”

Alas, The inner journey is ultimately what matters. “The fear of death could be the fear of never becoming whom one planned to be…” This can result in melancholy – an abiding longing for what could have been or finally acceptance of what is, and making the best of the life we have in the here and now.

At a jarring scene where a cyclist collides with him, his old perception is shattered as signified by his broken glasses. It is at the Opticians that he gains a new awareness and insight by the prescription of new glasses. It is then that he begins to feel. He realises that perception and feelings go hand in hand.

At the author’s graduation ceremony, he gave a speech where he stated “I would not like to live in a world where independent thinking is disparaged…” The author Amadeo had noble ideas which challenged the political Status quo.

Throughout the film, Raymond’s mobile phone keeps ringing-drawing him back to his former life. He ignores the calls for the most part simply because as he continues on his journey, his former life holds less and less appeal. He cannot go back to wearing his old pair of glasses.

The question which screams for an answer through the slow plot progression is – what is the connection between the suicidal lady on the bridge and the author of The book. Finally, as Raymond is checking out of his hotel in Lisbon, we are given the answer. The stranger resurfaces to thank him for saving her life. She is the grand-daughter of the ‘Butcher of Lisbon’,who had ruled and terrorised Portugal, and had been responsible for the author’s inner suffering. She had inherited his legacy of guilt and shame for all the lives he had killed and destroyed.

Ultimately the journeys we take are, into our own souls. This film leaves us with the resounding message that it takes courage to think, to feel and to live. We sense that Raymond has finally found that courage within himself, and you can too!

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