Night Train To Lisbon
Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons) is an aging schoolteacher living by himself in a small apartment in Bern , Switzerland . 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 Lisbon , Portugal . 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 Lisbon , 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, Irving , Texas