Rebellious students at an English private school plan a violent revolt against their repressive environment in director Lindsay Anderson's highly acclaimed but extremely controversial drama.
Centering on a small group of non-conformists led by Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell), the film paints a distinctly negative picture of the British school system and, by extension, English society.
Seeing the powers-that-be as humorless, bureaucratic, and needlessly restrictive, Mick and his cohorts indulge in small acts of rebellion, including sneaking into town to romance a local waitress. Their actions are discovered and punished with harsh beatings, leading the students to plot revenge.
This effort culminates in the film's most famous sequence, a surrealistic depiction of a bloody uprising by the students against the adult world. Daring and unpredictable in content and form, If... mixes color and black-and-white cinematography as easily as it mingles satire with dark fantasy.
The film's ambiguous attitude toward violence caused controversy at the time, as many commentators saw the film as a potential incitement to violence. It became a great success among younger, counter-culture audiences who appreciated the audacious shock tactics and embraced the satirical, anti-establishment message.
Often compared to Jean Vigo's French classic Zéro de conduite, which also featured surrealistic boarding-school rebellion, If... has become a high point in the cinema of youth rebellion. Anderson and McDowell later collaborated on O Lucky Man! (1973), Look Back in Anger (1980), and Britannia Hospital (1982).