Satyajit Ray Eric Rhode - Essay

Eric Rhode

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

On a first glance you might see Devi [The Goddess] … as no more than a film with a thesis, Ibsen in an Indian setting….

The thesis, it seems, is clear; and in fact is nothing less than the latent theme of the Apu trilogy made articulate….

On the level of a thesis …, the plot is both inexorable and tight. Ironies fall into place neatly—almost too neatly. A child is saved, so another child must die. Women are treated both as serfs and as idols; in any event, they are never allowed to be human beings…. In the Apu trilogy episodes were mainly related to each other by association; as the images of river and parched land recurred they took on the resonance, possibly the symbolism, of myth. In Devi episodes relate to each other with rationalist logic. So symbolism is played down; the river and landscape never become more than a beautiful backdrop to the action. Such a logic, moreover, requires motives to be highly plausible, a requirement which Devi doesn't entirely satisfy….

But—fortunately—Devi is much more than a tract. As always, Ray shows sympathy for the old order as well as for the new…. On a closor look, indeed, Devi is anything but a tract. It has touches of a Greek tragedy in which Kali, the destroyer, enacts her necessary sacrifice; not without reason is Doyamoyee chased by furies across a sunlit field of flowers. Again, and most convincingly, you could see Devi as a study of the unconscious forces which hold a family together. (p. 195)

Devi is about a high-born family, and the atmosphere needs to be a little precious. Like Renoir, and unlike most other directors, Ray has a real understanding of every class. He describes his aristocrats generously and without bias; yet he misses none of their foibles…. As a structure Devi is deceptively lucid. (p. 196)

Eric Rhode, "'Devi'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1964 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 33, No. 4, Autumn, 1964, pp. 195-96.