Film screenwriter Jake Armitage and his wife Jo Armitage live in London with six of Jo's eight children, with the two eldest boys at boarding school. The children are spread over Jo's three...
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Film screenwriter Jake Armitage and his wife Jo Armitage live in London with six of Jo's eight children, with the two eldest boys at boarding school. The children are spread over Jo's three marriages, with only the youngest being Jake's biological child, although he treats them all as his own. Jo left her second husband Giles after meeting Giles' friend Jake, the two who were immediately attracted to each other. Their upper middle class life is much different than Giles and Jo's, who lived in a barn in the English countryside. But Jo is ruminating about her strained marriage to Jake, with issues on both sides. Jo suspects Jake of chronic infidelity, she only confronting him with her suspicions whenever evidence presents itself. And Jo's psychiatrist believes that Jo uses childbirth as a rationale for sex, which he believes she finds vulgar. These issues in combination have placed Jo in a fragile mental state. They both state that they love the other, but neither really seems to like ... Written by
The film never explains its title, which refers to a traditional child's rhyme: "Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater/Had a wife, but couldn't keep her;/So he put her in a shell/And there he kept her very well." This serves as the epigraph of Penelope Mortimer's original novel. See more »
When Peter Finch first offers Anne Bancroft a can of beer, it's Carlsberg (product placement?), but, at the end of the film, when she is re-imagining the scene, it has become a can of Whitbread. See more »
"The Pumpkin Eater" is the story of a bad marriage and a character study of the wife, Jo Armitage (Anne Bancroft) and a partial study of the husband, Jake (Peter Finch). Directed by Jack Clayton and with a screenplay by Harold Pinter, the film has a good deal that is unspoken; it's obtuse at times and can leave the viewer with a lot of questions. It's not a film for everyone, as it moves slowly - I can't see audiences of today going for it - it's totally character driven.
Jo is a woman whose fulfillment comes from children and pregnancy. We first see her standing in her home with a stunned look on her face and reminiscing about different facets of her life. One facet is as a happy young woman living in a barn and being introduced to fledgling screenwriter Jake by her second husband. In the next flashback, she's with Jake and discussing the upcoming marriage with her father (Cedric Hardwicke). He's blunt - she has too many kids - so he offers to pay to send the two oldest boys to boarding school, and he also leases a house for them.
The film is not entirely in flashback. It switches back and forth and finally settles in the present. Quite early on, we return to Jo today standing in the house. She goes to Harrod's and has a nervous breakdown.
Jo is in love with a man who loves her as best he can, but it's not enough for her. They have a child together, and though he loves and is good to all of the children, they get in the way of his relationship with Jo. He invites her to a film set in Morocco; she doesn't go. She becomes pregnant again; he tells her that he thought at this point, with the money they have, that they would be free to travel. Now they're back where they started. We suspect when we meet a young woman, Philpot (Maggie Smith) who stays with the family for a time because she's been put out of her flat, that Jake cheats. Jo suspects it; he denies it. Then she gets some devastating news from an odd friend (James Mason).
One is really left with a bad feeling about marriage, and as someone on this board pointed out, it's easy to see both sides of the situation. The psychiatrist Jo sees asks her, can she only justify having sex if she becomes pregnant? When the psychiatrist tells her he's going away for two weeks and can't see her, he tries to make future appointments and she says she can't make it. She evidently feels rejection very easily. Jo needs to be needed and wanted, and she loves the honeymoon -the new man, the new baby - but she can't handle much of the aftermath.
The film doesn't take sides. It's a fascinating story of what two people can do to one another and what people attract into their lives.
Anne Bancroft is one of the greatest actresses of all time and one of the most ravishingly beautiful. You'll never see her name in a list of top beauties because even with her huge, luminous eyes, her classically sculpted face, her thick hair and her gorgeous smile and her husky voice, she was never about her looks. She was always about a great, committed performance. Bancroft does more with her eyes and facial expressions here than most actresses can do with a ton of dialogue. The camera doesn't love her, it adores her, and here closeups are used to great advantage. Her performance is quietly stunning, quietly shattering, just like her face. She devastates the viewer here in a different way from her more overt performance in "The Miracle Worker," but she still devastates. What a loss to film and the theater.
Peter Finch is excellent as Jake - very handsome and sexy, warm with the children - you could really see why he was so adored by women, and I for one didn't understand why Jo wasn't on every film set with him all day, every day. He's two men, really - he's a husband who does love his wife, but he's emotionally childish as well and takes his frustrations and anger out by sleeping with other women.
"The Pumpkin Eater" is one of those films that you might not even care for while watching it. You might not even totally get what's going on all the time, but it will stay with you. You'll go over it in your head, and you won't forget it. In this way, it reminds me of two brilliant movies, "Damage" and "In the Bedroom" - like those films, "The Pumpkin Eater" is a harrowing experience.
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