Monday, 19 March 2012

Love is never lovely in the end

The Deep Blue Sea: directed and written by Terence Davies

The final shot we see of Hester Collyer in The Deep Blue Sea occurs a few minutes before the film ends. After having a good cry Hester goes to the window of her apartment and opens the shutter. It’s a trivial action in the grander scheme, but in film where we must pay keen attention to what goes on in the frame it suggests much – she’s letting the light in, she’s looking out to a new life, etc. It is a lovely bit of symmetry from director Terence Davies, for the very first time we see Hester she is closing the shutters on the very same window about to attempt suicide after a tiff with her lover Freddie. And, in that way, The Deep Blue Sea is rather basic.
Hester, in an affable but dispassionate relationship with an older barrister, leaves her marriage to shack up with the more fervent and temperamental Freddie Page. This, at face value, the working plot of the film is relayed to us in a (for the most part) wordless ten minute sequence at the film’s beginning just after Hester takes the fatal pills. But, of course, she does not die, and the film has 80 more minutes to go – so, of course, that cannot be all. From what I’ve gleaned Davies’ adaptation of the Terrence Rattigan’s play is vastly different from the source, this version is rather “plot-less” in nature and is something of a complex (but still not invasive) character study of this woman Hester Collyer. We are in London and the title card tells us that it is “around 1950” and as present day Hester tries to hold on to an increasingly volatile Freddie and ward off her generally genial ex-husband we are given slivers of scenes relaying her relationship with the two men. And, it is the conundrum of choosing between a life of certainty and dullness and insecurity and excitement. Hester is caught in the deep blue sea. The audience is not, for we know which pillar calls to Hester.

But, as I noted, The Deep Blue Sea and its plot-less roots is not specifically interested in holding the viewer’s emotions at ransom as we observe which side she clings to. We know, even if we think we don’t, we do. What we’re privy too is an observation of how decisiveness to ones ideals (however vague, and however dangerous) can be something terrible and still something liberating. The use of the word “liberating”, though, seems ironic. In nature The Deep Blue Sea is not explicitly unreal, but frame after frame Davies’ film unfolds like an impressionistic painting. Director of photography Florian Hoffmeister with an enviable use of light and colour lends a sophisticated beauty to the narrative which is at once – deliberately, I suspect – at odds with the story itself. As if it to say, something this gorgeous can’t be devastating…can she?
Oh, but she can. And she is. Of course, the “she” I refer to is Rachel Weisz. I’m moved to seek out the previous cinematic adaptation of this which starred Vivien Leigh simply to see what she does with the role. Rachel Weisz, at 42, has never been as beautiful on screen as she is here in a role that’s immediately a puzzle. Other than our typically idealistic concept of love and passion her motives seem terribly specious, and yet it becomes increasingly difficult to indict Hester – at least fully – for silliness. We hear Hester’s voice before we see her, as she narrates her suicide letter. Voiceovers are tricky, and as we hear our voice the lack of sentimentality (well, for a suicide note) is baffling, as if Hester is aware of her inanity and is the same time unable to act against it. And, yet, it is in the moments where there is a paucity of dialogue where Weisz is most luminous – an almost imperceptible sigh as she speaks with her mother-in-law, turning over the words in her head as she considers whether to confess to how many pills she’s taken and a smile to break all hearts as she looks at her “boring” husband feeling nothing, but smiling – as if willing herself to be happy.

These are basic things, and The Deep Blue Sea is – at its root, rather basic. But its basic nature is one which evokes decades gone by. When Rattigan wrote this play, Hester’s dilemma would have been a contemporary issue for the time, and Davies film doesn’t take a look back at a time gone by but instead creates the film as if it were something from the fifties. There is no knowing suggestion of a modern day creator espying the lives of a former period, the film doesn’t even look like a traditional period piece from today would look, the music (both borrowed pieces and original) seem specifically suited to a Wyler piece. Weisz, of course, in a piece so structured overpowers all else making the film the slightest bit limp when she’s out of the frame. Which is an unjust thing to say for the film itself, and her cast, are more than competent. Hiddleston and Beale as either sides of Hester’s “sea” are good, as is Ann Mitchell in particular giving a surprisingly robust performance as the landlady.
And, yet, Davies doesn’t seem specifically focused on Hester when it all comes down to the wire. For, when Hester opens that window and lets the light in the camera moves away from her. And we pan across the apartment complex and the camera settles on an abandoned leaving uneasy and unable to be truly happy at Hester’s potential breakthrough. The film is claustrophobic in that way. Even the scenes that are outside seem stunted as if the characters are unable to break free of themselves. Which is, of course, a deep blue sea. But, I sell Davies’ short because the melancholy pervading the film is not chronic and as Hester makes one (conventionally, at least) bad decision after another she is unapologetic and when we leave her she may be tearful, but she’s certainly not regretful. As if to say, I cannot regret what I enjoyed at the time. And, after all, whatever the trials – life goes on.

Lovely / B+

A/N: Just in case you’re wondering, which is unlikely but in the nature of full disclosure I’ll inform you nonetheless, the title of my 2012 reviews – unlike my 2011 reviews – are not lines of dialogue from the film (hence the lack of quotation marks). Instead, they are not so arbitrarily chosen words that surmise the main thrust of the film for me.

A/N 2: Most of you already know how seriously I take the grading process, so I'm not liable to change grades flippantly - if ever - but a second viewing of this increased my appreciation exponentially, almost as if its softness made me afraid to appreciate its splendor. I include the original grade only for continuity, but the official grade is now....

What would we do without you? / A-

1 comment:

yaykisspurr said...

Hi! I just found your site. I really loved this review! You made me want to see a movie I patently do not want to see. I loved all the technique references and found you sound like a professional critic at times. Cheers!