Peter Proud (Michael Sarrazin) has been having the same dreams, over and over. He’s skinny-dipping in a lake when a woman hits him with a paddle, and he ends up drowning, except the man doesn’t look like Peter and it’s not Peter’s voice when he talks in his sleep. According to his girlfriend, Nora (Cornelia Sharpe), it’s deeper, and it’s been happening for six months. The doctors can’t find anything wrong with him and the dreams, they say, may be hallucinations, so Peter comes to the only conclusion he can: he must be remembering a past life.
Lee Gambin (whose latest book, Hell Hath No Fury Like Her: The Making of Christine, is available now from Bear Manor Press) does the audio commentary for Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray and I was thrilled when he brought up possession, because while Proud sees Dr. Samuel Goodman (Paul Hecht), a parapsychologist, it’s not Goodman who proposes Proud is dealing with reincarnation. Proud comes up with the idea all by himself. After spotting one of the buildings from his hallucinations on TV, he tracks it down to a town in Massachusetts called Springfield. There he’s able to find the wife (Margot Kidder’s Marcia) and daughter (Jennifer O’Neill’s Ann) of the man he believes he was in the 40’s.
While nobody ever argues with his foregone conclusion (least of all Goodman, who wants to make his career out of this case), possession is an equally valid explanation that fulfills all of the facts. J. Lee Thompson directed the picture, and Gambin makes the astute point that you often remember things in snippets, which is how the flashbacks sometimes appear in this movie. Jerry Goldsmith’s unusual music choices never fail to fascinate and one of my favorite scenes has Peter playing out a conversation with the police in his head and walking away, when he realizes what a train wreck it would be.
Peter laments that his dreams aren’t more Freudian but it’s a “be careful what you wish for” situation. Details like the revelations that come out about Peter and Norah’s relationship really add to the plot and make it juicier and more complicated. Considering she ultimately declines to continue traveling with Peter, they give substance to a relationship that might’ve been left unexplored but instead gains depth.
Gambin knows his movies and besides providing examples of films on resurrection, he addresses all of these neat subcategories, too (like movies where a character visits an occult book shop, or movies where a character comes across their own grave).
The film could’ve done more with Peter’s transition from a college professor who believes in facts to a believer in the supernatural, and while we’re prepped for Peter’s past self being a cheater, there’s a scene depicting graphic sexual violence towards the end which, while further explaining Marcia’s actions, is difficult to watch.
In many ways The Reincarnation of Peter Proud is a straightforward movie, progressing in a very systematic manner, but the possibility of reincarnation that the movie considers is as provocative today as it was in the 70’s.
The Reincarnation of Peter Proud is available now from Kino Lorber.