In the film, “Withnail & I”, we see a pair of actor friends who are both down on their luck. They support each other, and though they bicker constantly, they are also deeply dependent on each other.
This film has achieved cult status in the UK – the clever script has many quotable expressions, the characters are recognisable as people we know, or wish we knew, or maybe wish we hadn’t known.
But it is the relationship between Withnail, and “I” – who’s name we only hear once when he is referred to as Marwood – that leaves the strongest impression on us. The story ends with Marwood leaving town, and the viewer is torn between wishing the best for Marwood, whilst feeling the pain of Withnail, who, despite being a very flawed human being, we have come to love.
Yet we know that Marwood has made the right decision.
In the words of Karlfried Graf Durckheim (1896 – 1988):
“The man, who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it. Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him.
In this lies the dignity of daring.”
Here’s the script for that final scene in Witnail & I
I: Right, I’m off now.
I: My father will pick up my stuff in the week and do something
about the car.
Withnail: But I’ve got us a bottle open. Confiscated it from Monte’s
supplies. 53 Margaux. Best of the century
I: I can’t Withnail, I’ll miss the train.
Withnail: There’s always time for a drink.
I: I haven’t the time.
Withnail: Alright, I’ll walk with you to the station. We can drink it
through the park. [He grabs his coat and an umbrella and takes
The Park [It is pouring down with rain. Withnail offers the bottle to I]
I: No thank you, no more.
Look, it’s a stinker Withnail, why don’t you go home.
Withnail: Because I want to walk you to the station.
I: No, really, I really don’t want you to. I shall miss you Withnail.
Withnail: I’ll miss you too.
[I departs. Withnail walks to the fence and leans against it.]
Withnail: I have of late, but wherefore I know not,
lost all my mirth and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame
the earth seems to me a sterile promotory;
this most excellent canopy the air, look you,
this mighty o’rehanging firmament,
this majestical roof fretted with golden fire;
why, it appeareth nothing to me
but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a God!
The beauty of the world, paragon of animals;
and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dusk.
Man delights not me, no, nor women neither,
nor women neither.
“I” is not afraid of the change, whereas Withnail has employed
his familiar tactics in an attempt to delay his friend,
who has possibly been given a small acting part in a stage play
that may lead to a brighter future.
At the very least it will be an alternative future.
“I” refuses the bottle proffered by his old friend, saying
“No thank you, no more” and then “I can’t Withnail, I’ll miss the train”…