Friday, 13 July 2018

The Oxford Murders (4 Stars)

I could easily describe the plot of this film in a single sentence, but I shan't do it because that sentence would give away the film's ending.

"The Oxford Murders" is a slow-moving murder mystery that takes place in the intellectual community in Oxford. It's a unusual film for the director Alex de la Iglesia. It's also a strange choice of subject. As a Spanish director making his first film in English for 12 years it's remarkable that he's presenting a film that's very untypical for him.

Elijah Wood plays Martin, an American student who arrives in Oxford in 1993 to do a PhD. He's chosen Oxford because he's fascinated by the eccentric professor Arthur Seldom, who has written books on the philosophical implications of number theory. The film opens with Professor Seldom quoting from Ludwig Wittgenstein's "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" to prove that Philosophy is dead. I read the Tractatus in my first year of university, and I can state categorically that it was never Wittgenstein's intention to kill off philosophical study. All he wanted to do was instate rules to govern philosophical debate, adhering to the school of logical positivism. Interestingly, Wittgenstein rejected a large part of the Tractatus in his later life, but many philosophers still consider the Tractatus the pinnacle of philosophical thought.

Shortly after his arrival Martin's landlady is killed. This is the first in a series of murders, for which the killer leaves clues in the form of patterns from number series. Martin is one of the prime suspects. Together with Professor Seldom he attempts to solve the case.

The film isn't just about Philosophy and Mathematics. There are also sexual intrigues. Martin is torn between two women, both of whom are connected to Professor Seldom. They're fascinated by his intelligence, he's fascinated by their bodies. As Martin's landlady states before her murder, "Arthur suffers from the same weakness as all men; he likes young women". Is that really a weakness? If it is I must be weak as well.

The film has been criticised by critics for being too boring. I disagree. I find the intellectual atmosphere of the film fascinating. The Inspector Morse series was also set in Oxford, but it was just a backdrop. In "The Oxford Murders" university life is an essential part of the story. Maybe the critics never studied Philosophy at Oxford University, so the film is too foreign for them to understand?

Nevertheless, I don't consider this film to reach the high standards of Alex de la Iglesia's other films. It's too different. It's not as mad, not as chaotic as his Spanish language films. It's the total opposite, a murder case that has to be solved by mathematical logic.

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