Night Train to Lisbon Analysis



A description of historical democratization in Portugal and how change in regime divided a nation by radical Right and Left ideologies.

            The trilateral political party views illustrated in Night Train to Lisbon represent the various phases before the consolidation of democracy in Portugal. Amadeu du Prado, Jorge O’Kelly, and Estefania characterize the various ideologies that influenced elitist political action in the advancement towards democratization. The dramatization of the characters’ troubles amongst one another embodies the ideological tension between socialists, communists, and conservatives that followed the Revolution of Carnations. In addition, the relationship of the old regime and the new regime is symbolically conveyed by the conflicting relations of Amadeu with his father, the fascist judge.

Raimund Gregorius uncovers the historical context of the resistance by linking the separate personal experiences of the living Portuguese characters. None of the characters felt comfortable talking about the past, each character reacted differently. For instance, Joao felt comfortable retelling his account to Gregorius since he was a stranger. However, Joao expressed to Gregorius that he could not trust his family or friends as consequence of the authoritarian regime. Even Mariana, Joao’s niece, shared her great disbelief to Gregorius how Joao never spoke about the past. Moreover, when Gregorius sought to inquire on Jorge, Jorge reacted suspiciously, confronting Gregorius by asking why he was being followed. Jorge broke into an outrage the first time Gregorius attempted to question him and refused to talk to Gregorius. However, during their second interaction, Jorge did not feel comfortable speaking to Gregorius unless he indulged with Jorge over a few glasses of wine and some cigarettes. The act of retelling brought a sense of somber nostalgia to all the characters who spoke about the past, the reason why none of them spoke about it. The characters’ silence of the past left Joao ignorant of Estefania remaining alive, and Jorge and Estefania both broke down when communicating of the past to Gregorius.

The friendship between Amadeu and Jorge reflects the Leftist action promoting radical democracy. Amadeu, the aristocrat, portrayed the ideals of socialism, while Jorge, the working-class boy, symbolized Communism. The pair studied at Liceu, a traditional catholic school, where the two uncovered books of radical thinkers such as Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Henry Miller. The graduation speech that Amadeu gave foreshadows the dramatic turn of events in the movie, and juxtaposes the demand of the non-hierarchical military for radical democracy. Before giving his speech, Amadeu insists that Jorge recites the speech since the words of the speech were Jorge’s, implying the Marxist influence on socialism. During his speech, Amadeu elicits the need to throw away the bible and accentuates critical thinking and individualism. “What is a man without secrets? Thoughts and wishes that he and he alone knows,” exemplifies the radically zealous character of Amadeu and of the Leftist mandate. His speech denounces Catholicism as a blow to the totalitarian state, and expresses the democratic need of “freedom to rebel.” Furthermore, he rejects the “love demanded by tyrants, oppressors, and assassins,” and discredits the “dictatorship’s worthless slogans.”

            The chaotic love triangle between Amadeu, Jorge, and Estefania initially highlights the disparity between the socialists and communists. The split in ideologies between Amadeu and Jorge ultimately causes them to go against their self-made values and religion of truth and loyalty. Jorge distances himself from Amadeu after civilians rechristened Amadeu as a traitor for saving Mendez’s life. Jealousy boils in Jorge once he finds Estefania discovers more of an interest in Amadeu, and Jorge figures killing Estefania would protect the disbandment of the Council of Revolution or the Assembly of the Armed Forces. Jorge is defeated by Amadeu after Jorge drops his weapons, juxtaposed to the coalition between the conservatives and socialists that allowed the Portuguese Socialist Party to win the constituent assembly on April 25, 1975.

            Finally, the moderate phase of democratization is personified by Amadeu and Estefania’s night drive out of the Portuguese border. Ironically, the authoritarian regime saves Estefania’s life since the Butcher of Lisbon was indebted to Amadeu. The climactic scene of Amadeu and Estefania conversing in the car embodies the irreversible transition to socialism and the hindrances the Council of Revolution made on democratization. The radical ideas of Amadeu were too much for Estefania, and her rejection of Amadeu epitomizes the conservatives ending the military’s political interference, thus, consolidating the Portuguese democracy.

            To conclude, the elitist pacts caused the vacillating progression and digression of democratization in Portugal. The power struggle amongst the political elites prolonged the steps to democratization, leaving Portugal to be partially authoritarian and democratic. Among the explicit story of Amadeu, Jorge, and Estefania, the theme of democratization even takes place in the daily life decisions made by Gregorius. Gregorius’s boss, Mr. Kagi, constantly calls needing to know if Gregorius will ever come back. The democratic choice of freedom kindles Gregorius’s indecision, he wants to live as freely as Amadeu did. The conclusion of Amadeu’s life story inspires Gregorius to make riskier decisions, and the romanticized morale of the story ends with Liberal-democracy.

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