To watch the movie first or read the book first? This was a tough call for me, but since I was certain the movie would lose some impact if I did read the book first, I went ahead and watched The Scapegoat starring Matthew Rhys. Now I’m chomping at the bit to read the book, but that probably won’t happen for awhile as there’s much on my plate as far as both reading and writing projects.
The Scapegoat (2012) is an adaptation of the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Recently, I have become a big fan of du Maurier and her amazing, atmospheric writing. She has great skill in writing in just about any time period and sounding relatively authentic, plus has a great affinity for thrilling plots. The Scapegoat is a doppelgänger tale, two strangers switch places and their lives are never the same after. The plot immediately brought to mind the works of Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley), whose Strangers on a Train is also on my reading and eventual watch list.
Two identical strangers meet coincidentally in a pub. One’s rich, the other poor. Shades of Prince and the Pauper, and they do exchange places, though the poor, out of work schoolteacher gets tricked into it. John continues the charade of playing Johnny because he’s rather thrilled with the aspect of being rich for awhile: Cool car, big house, etc. After meeting Johnny’s family, however, he realizes that his twin isn’t a very nice person, keeping mistresses, continually cheating on his wife, lying, and generally being careless with the welfare of his family and company. It quickly becomes clear that a company deal Johnny was supposed to have brokered did not happen, and he’s placed John in a position to take the fall.
The schoolteacher’s character quickly becomes clear: He’s very kind to all of Johnny’s family, especially his very precocious, annoying daughter, nicknamed Piglet. Since John is more bookish and intelligent than Johnny, he even finds a way to remedy the company situation and ends up getting the deal done, anyway. Throughout the film, which takes the place over maybe a week or so, we see how John affects Johnny’s family in positive ways, hearing out their troubles, getting his mother (Eileen Atkins) to forgo her morphine addiction and get out and among people again, comforting his sister (Jodhi May) who is still in mourning for the loss of a loved one, and giving real hope to his brother and a chance for him to move forward career wise.
Johnny is placed firmly in the villain camp. He comes back to find John settling quite nicely into his rather great life, and is so jealous, especially of John’s connection with his wife (Alice Orr-Ewing), that Johnny actually manipulates her into committing suicide. Fortunately, due to the precocious yet very smart Piglet, John is alerted and gets there just in time to save her. It is heavily implicated that Johnny was the cause of the suicide of Rose, whom his sister loved, and that he likely manipulated her in the very same way. Despicable does not even begin to describe this person.
As Johnny would now like his life back, now that the schoolteacher has fixed everything, John finds that he must literally fight for his life in order to oppose him. It is only the housekeeper/nanny (Phoebe Nicholls) who calls John out as not actually being Johnny, and it’s something she does as a last resort to get the better man to stay, stay and keep doing good for the family. I think it likely the rest of the family members suspect something–how could they not–but like this new Johnny so much, they prefer not to question. This is truly a happy ending: The villain is dead and has gotten his just desserts, and a much better man is installed in his place.
The term scapegoat comes from the Bible’s Old Testament. The sins of all the Israelites were symbolically placed on a goat by a high priest and the goat was sent off into the desert to die. This concept of someone or something else punished in one’s place is found throughout the Bible, because Jesus the Savior, though he was innocent, took on all of the sins of the world, and the punishment and death for them. He also conquered death from rising from the dead, something that Christians celebrate every Easter.
Another story connected with this idea, is The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, in which a poor boy is whipped or punished whenever the rich boy does something wrong. In this story, the boys also swap identities. In effect, that is what a scapegoat means, taking on the identity of another person.
A great watch, and I can’t wait to read the book. Next week I will be back to reviewing Korean dramas. Just started Two Weeks starring Li Joon-Gi from the popular Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. It’s about a falsely accused man trying to prove in innocence and make it time to donate bone marrow for his daughter dying of leukemia. I’m also reading and immensely enjoying the book The Lies of Lock Lamora. I heard about the book from perusing reviews of Six of Crows, which I loved. This is also a fantasy heist/con artist story, and although I never got into the Game of Thrones TV series, I think fans of that would like this.
A scapegoat is not taking on the identity of another person, a scapegoat is one who is made to take the blame for someone else’s misdoings. Think of a family where one child seems to be blamed for everything – that child is a scapegoat.
Yes, I do mention that in my review what a scapegoat is. I think that was the intention of the rich man switching with the schoolteacher. He wanted another person to take the blame for his actions.