Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons) is an
aging schoolteacher living by himself in a small apartment in
. He gets up in the morning and plays
chess with himself over his cup of hot tea. He
goes to work and talks to high schoolers about Marcus Aurelius, and carries
their essays home to grade. They
pretend to be interested, until he leaves the room.
Nothing much happens in his life; certainly nothing new.
And then one day everything changes.
As he gets off the train in the rain, he
sees a young woman about to jump off the bridge into the river.
He instinctively runs over to save her, spilling papers as he goes, and
he barely gets there in time. She seems
curiously devoid of conversation or emotion. She
accepts his invitation to walk with him to his classroom, where he takes her
wet red coat and gives her a seat by the door.
But as soon as he turns his back she is gone.
He runs to the window to see her walking back toward the train station,
without her coat, and he impulsively leaves his class and runs after her, red
coat in hand.
But she’s nowhere to be found.
He does discover a small book in her coat pocket, and still in a
breathless search mode, goes to a nearby bookstore where he is obviously well
known as a customer, to see if the proprietor might have some clue.
He does, it turns out----he remembers the young woman who bought the
book the day before, and her red coat that Raimund still holds in his hand.
While handing the book back, something falls out, which turns out to be
a train ticket to
. The train is leaving in 30 minutes.
Still in frantic search mode, and
heedless of the students still sitting in his classroom, Raimund runs to the
train station to search for her, and the train is leaving the station, but
still no sign of her. Now he has one of
those classic crossroads, where a seemingly simple decision could literally
change his life. He boards the train.
Perhaps he felt an emotional connection
to the young woman; a certain responsibility for her life.
Maybe he just wanted to return the red coat.
Perhaps he couldn’t even explain to himself why he was sitting there
on the moving train, where she was still nowhere to be found, but somehow he
doesn’t mind. He begins settling in
and reading the book, and finds himself fascinated.
It’s by a poet named Amadeu, who wrote during the time of the
Portuguese political unrest in the early 1970’s. The sentences jump off the
page with clarity and profoundness; Raimund hasn’t felt this moved by merely
reading in a long time. Somehow it
seems fitting that he would now be traveling to
, to the place where the book had its origins.
And when he arrives, Raimund checks
into a local hotel, and quits accepting phone calls from the Headmaster of the
school about why he left and when he’s going to return.
And he sets out as a kind of literary sleuth, trying to find out what
has become of Amadeu. Yes, it might
appear to an outsider that he has suddenly taken leave of his senses.
But this is the most interesting—and impulsive--- thing he’s done
in a long time.
As his investigation unfolds, Raimund
meets some of the characters mentioned in the book, who by now, of course, are
much older, but they are quite willing to talk about those exciting times in
their youth, when everything seemed so vivid and vibrant and vivacious.
The film begins to “flashback” the viewer into those early days of
the revolution, when the cause seemed so righteous, and the days were filled
with such import and urgency.
In a sense, there is a “Night Train To
Lisbon” moment for many of us, when we make an impulsive decision, and
embark on an unscheduled adventure. We
don’t know where it will lead, or how it may change us.
But, as the poet Amadue (Jack Huston) puts it, either way, we will
leave something of ourselves there.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St.
Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,