David Lean's A Passage to India (1984) was based on E.M. Forsters's 1924 novel of the same name, and examines the themes of racism, sexuality and colonialism in British India of the 1920s, which is already seething with discontent and demands for independence. Its setting is the fictional province of Chandrapore, where a strange event occurs in some magical caves that leaves the perceptions and memories of all concerned highly distorted. At the start of the movie, an Anglicized and Westernized Muslim physician, Dr. Aziz H. Ahmed, meets an elderly British lady named Mrs. Moore and her young friend Adela Quested, who is the fiance of her son, Justice Ronny Heaslop. In the course of the film, however, it becomes increasingly clear that Adela and Ronny are not really in love, and do not particularly like each other, especially because she disapproves of his attitudes toward the natives. She probably does become attracted to Aziz, although in the context of that time and place, such relationships were not permitted and their desires remained unspoken.
They agree to go sightseeing at the local Marbar Caverns, and this turns out to be an extremely expensive expedition involving guides, costly food, elephants and rented cars, and Aziz has to borrow money from his relatives to pay for it. He is also very embarrassed by his own poverty and the low quality of his residence, which he regards as too primitive for Western guests to ever see. His feelings for Adela are unclear, although he certainly wants to impress both her and Mrs. Moore as being a 'civilized' man. When Mrs. Moore goes into the first cave, the odd echoes have a peculiar effect on her psyche, leaving her feeling tired, ill and disoriented. Indeed, whatever this experience really was, it changes her life radically and finally causes her death. Adela and Aziz climb the mountain by themselves while she sits alone under an umbrella, completely confused and lost in time. Adela enters one of the caves alone and experiences something totally inexplicable and difficult to describe, but it involves feelings of desire and sexuality. She even comes to believe that Aziz attempted to rape her, although in reality he was outside the cavern attempting to find her.
Aziz is arrested and charged with attempted rate, and the trial becomes a sensation all over India, particularly because he is defended by a well-known attorney who is a radical nationalist and active in the independence movement. As the trial goes on, crowds gather outside the courthouse demanding the acquittal of Aziz, and finally storm through the doors and carry him around town on their shoulders when he is freed. Without intending it, Aziz became a hero and martyr to the cause of Indian nationalism, as well as a symbol of British oppression and injustice. Ironically, Ronnie had recused himself from the case because he knew the victim, and his place was taken by an Indian judge who was more sympathetic to Aziz and the crowds outside. He frees the defendant when Adela admits that no crime had occurred and Aziz had been outside the cave attempting to find her, although at no time can she explain or even clearly remember just what she did encounter in the cavern.
Aziz's only British defender was the local school superintendent Richard Fielding, who resigns from his job and from the local club because he alone believed that Aziz was innocent. In the end, Aziz moves out of British India to set up practice in Kashmir, although he was never able to forgive Adela for damaging his life and reputation. After all, he had done nothing to her, and she finally admitted in court that no attempted rape had occurred, although she was unable to explain what really did happen to her in the cave. Aziz also broke with Fielding when he moved to Kashmir, and even refused to answer his letters because he believed that he had married Adela. Only at the end of the movie does he realize that Fielding had in fact married a different women and their old friendship is restored. At the same time, Adela is living alone in England, still attempting to understand what had happened in the cavern that day, but perhaps it was simply an experience beyond words.
Adela and Mrs. Moore never did fit into the narrow…