If.... is a 1968 British drama film produced and directed by Lindsay Anderson satirising English public school life. Famous for its depiction of a savage insurrection at a public school, the film is associated with the 1960s counterculture movement because it was filmed by a long-standing counter-culture director at the time of the student uprisings in Paris in May 1968. It includes controversial statements, such as: "There's no such thing as a wrong war. Violence and revolution are the only pure acts". It features surrealist sequences throughout the film. Upon release in the UK, it received an X certificate.
The film stars Malcolm McDowell in his first screen role and his first appearance as Anderson's "everyman" character Mick Travis. Richard Warwick, Christine Noonan, David Wood, and Robert Swann also star, and Rupert Webster is featured as the young boy Bobby Phillips.
if.... won the Palme d'Or at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. In 2004, the magazine Total Film named it the sixteenth greatest British film of all time. The Criterion Collection released the DVD on 19 June 2007.
Plot (courtesy of Wikipedia):
The film is set in a British independent school for boys in the late 1960s (most of the scenes were filmed at Cheltenham College in Gloucestershire, with the remainder at Aldenham School in Hertfordshire). Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is one of three non-conformist boys among the returning class. They are watched and persecuted by the "Whips", senior boys given authority as prefects over juniors. The prefects are entitled to the services of "Scum", who are first-year boys assigned to run errands, make tea and generally act as unpaid servants. This refers to the old tradition of "fagging" which still persisted in many British independent boys' schools.
The early part of the film shows scenes in the school as the pupils return at the start of a new term. Mick Travis, the protagonist, arrives with a suitcase on his shoulder, wearing a black hat, with a black scarf across his face to hide his moustache. Stephans comments, "God, it's Guy Fawkes back again", hinting at the conclusion of the film. Rowntree (Robert Swann) is the Head Whip, and he revels in his power, ordering the junior boys to "Run! Run in the corridor!"
After the first evening meal, the Whips conduct some of the more mundane business of the school, signing up boys for "Confirmation class" and "VD clinic". Each boy has to lower his pants so the school nurse can inspect his genitals.
These early scenes show the school's customs and traditions. The Headmaster (Peter Jeffrey) is somewhat remote from the boys and the House Masters. Arthur Lowe, as Mick's House Master Mr. Kemp, is told "I'll have to get back to you on that" when he brings things to the Headmaster's attention. Kemp himself is easily manipulated by the Whips into giving them a free hand in enforcing discipline.
Mick steals a motorbike from a showroom and has an affair with a local waitress; and Wallace finds adolescent romance with Bobby Philips, a junior boy, whom he takes to bed. They indulge in self-inflicted ordeals, such as seeing how long they can hold a plastic bag over their faces.
As the film progresses it concentrates on Mick's group and their clashes with the school authorities. Mick and his friends are subject to punishments, and eventually they are sentenced to corporal punishment in the form of a severe "beating" (i.e. a caning) by the Whips. The caning is administered by Rowntree in the gym with a long run-up (this scene is said to be based on traditional practice at Tonbridge School, where scriptwriter David Sherwin was a student in the 1950s). The three boys are left with bleeding buttocks. Mick's punishment is especially brutal (10 strokes), yet tradition demands that he shake hands with Rowntree when it is over and say, "Thank you, Rowntree".
Scenes are shot through with surreal elements, such as some scenes being shot in black and white. This was not for dramatic emphasis, as people presumed, but simply because the huge windows at the college gave off obstructing light that affected the camera lenses. Another explanation given later by Lindsay Anderson is simply that the production was running out of money.
At the end, in a surreal sequence, they discover a cache of automatic weapons, and revolt against the establishment. On Founders' Day, when parents are visiting the school, they start a fire under the hall, smoke out the parents, staff and boys, and open fire on them from a rooftop. Led by the visiting General who was giving the speech, the staff and boys break open the Combined Cadet Force armoury and fire back.
The Headmaster tries to stop the firefight and calls for peace. Mick's girl, who is on the roof with them, produces a revolver from her belt and shoots the Headmaster through the forehead. The battle continues, and the camera closes in on Mick's face as he keeps firing, ending the film with a blackout and an echo of gunfire with the film's title "if...." emblazoned in red on the screen.