The Remains of the Remains of the Day

Speaking of Ishiguro, the most important moment in the novel The Remains of the Day is near the end when Stevens finds himself sitting on a bench along a pier in Weymouth talking to a stranger. He says:

“His lordship was a courageous man. He chose a certain path in life, it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship’s wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?”

It is an emotionally devastating moment, a moment of clarity, an admission, when all of Steven’s obfuscations, denials and justifications fall away. And this scene does not exist in the film.

When I first saw the film, I thought that the absence of this moment was an unforgivable omission – denying Stevens his moment of salvation, and leaving behind only that churning, blinkered, embittered being. I even went back to the book to make sure that it was still there – that moment, still powerful and resonant.

It turns out that they did film the scene. But they left it out because it was felt that it did not work.

Watching this scene – as remarkable as Anthony Hopkins is – I’m not sure that they were wrong. It does feel at odds with the mood and the texture of the film, and does not add much to the movie as a whole. But I am also left wondering if there wasn’t room for an (un)happy compromise – without all the waterworks, austere enough to fit in with the rest of the film, but with enough emotion to do justice to that moment. Certainly, Hopkins is an artist talented enough to pull it off.

Here’s the scene with very interesting commentary from the director (James Ivory). I do think Hopkins was right to fight for the scene – I think anyone who had read the book would have done so – as much as Ivory was right to cut the finished product.