‘Withnail and I‘ talks about a problem that is probably the most central to my life – that of growing up. As a kid, to me grown ups were all about leading a humdrum life deliberately doing boring things when they could really be enjoying. The whole hub-bub about being a grown up and being responsible and important was, obviously, a load of crap. The only thing that seemed good about grown ups was that they had access to money but that too they didn’t spend on buying ice-cream. In short, being a grown up was pointless.
Now as a grown up, my views haven’t changed much. Yes, I have discovered intoxication as a grown up but that’s about it. The whole concept of being a grown man (and not a boy) seems over-hyped. What point is it if you spend the larger part of your life doing something that largely bores you, makes you sick and does’t help anyone else much either? Being mature, taking charge and maintaining a poker face is all there is to be an adult.
But this is that one thing that you just cannot avoid. At the fag end of your college life (when you are still allowed to be not grown up) when you ask, “Can I remain like this? Just like this?” the slap-in-your-face answer is “Hell no!”
Thereby begins the journey of becoming obnoxious. The successful ones are held up in society as examples. The who suck at it just wither away.
‘Withnail and I’ is a rather pungent take on that. And one that tickles too. And the exploits of the two – Withnail and I (Marwood) give a heady feeling to those of us who have experienced it on our own before. There is a certain romance in struggling to make one’s ends meet especially, if one is a student or a young bachelor trying to make it on his own. Success, the goal of this struggle, is also inexplicably looked upon as the bitch. Success often means betrayal. Certain conditions of existence, universally agreed upon to be unfavourable, bring about a certain sense of camaraderie which transcends those conditions in turn. And then, somehow, that camaraderie requires those unfavourable conditions to keep going on in a perverse manner. It is this buddy feeling, garbed under many a facade – creativity, revolution, alternate living, subversion etc., that underlines this very difficult juncture of life. When Withnail and his friend don’t have enough to eat but still crave for booze, have to go through hell to survive in the countryside…only then do they perform at their magical best. That ‘performance’ may include mouthing lines like “Warm up? We may as well sit around a cigarette” or just keep downing large pegs of scotch.
There isn’t much that makes one logically agree with Withnail. Probably even he didn’t agree with himself. But ‘Withnail and I’ shows that the problems they face are important. The shifts in life that have been designed by the society may not be smooth for everyone especially if they are not ready or willing for it. The film makes (or tries to make) one realize that such people can be brilliant without producing any brilliant result. The point is that only the ‘grown ups’ refuse to realize that. Grown ups who are actually douchebags.