Sunday, 5 August 2012

Scene on a Sunday: The Deep Blue Sea

I’ve made little effort to hide the fact that Terence Davies’ gorgeous ode to a love affair on the rocks (The Deep Blue Sea) has been my favourite film of the year, thus far (review). The film, like the beautiful photography from Florian Hoffmeister is one of an especially slow burn and is less character study than character observation as we observe the sometimes impenetrable Hester deal with her mass of feelings for her rogue lover Freddie Page. For, see, Hester is a married woman enjoying or rather enduring a perfunctory marriage to an affable judge who she loves but has little passion for. The relationship with Freddie is volatile, and he doesn’t love her as much as she does him, but it provides her with the excitement she so desperately yearns for.
Adapted from a Terrence Rattigan play for his centennial last year, The Deep Blue Sea (even for a Rattigan play) is terribly plot-less, such that in assessing what counts as a spoiler or not there seems little information which would especially spoil the experience. Distributed by Music Box Films, the film has done modestly (an understatement) at the box-office and its March release date makes it seem like an implausibility for awards’ consideration at the end of the year. This is an especial shame as it features arguably the finest work from the three principals – Weisz, Hiddleston and Beale.

It’s odd, then, considering the profound performances given from the main trio that in the return of my Scene on a Sunday features a scene which doesn’t focus on the performances specifically. But, I single out this specific scene because it’s such a fine example of how Davies sensibilities as a writer and director work in the film. It’s not a spoiler to say that the film traces a day in the life of Hester Collyer after she attempts suicide. She’s as dissatisfied in her adulterous relationship with Freddie as she was in her marriage. The scene opens on her having been hung-up on, trying to get Freddie back home.

And, she begins to walk with purpose from the booth…

…and ends up at the train station…

And there’s really only one reason a woman who attempted suicide the same morning would go to an empty train station after a spat with her lover.

At 42 Rachel Weisz has never appeared more beautiful on screen. It’s more than on an aesthetic level. Sure, Hoffmeister and Davies know all the ways to make her look gorgeous, but there’s a sensitivity an devastating power to her Hester that’s impossible to resist.

...more below the jump for a stunning scene on a train, Davies' explanation of the scene and gorgeous cinematography...

And we know just what it is Hester is thinking, and we know it’s foolish but it’s difficult to expressly censure her just because of the depth of Weisz’s performance.

As we hear the train departs and the dust falls and it is just another part of the motif throughout the film of things getting older and being destroyed (like that closing shot).

And that shot takes us into a flashback (the film makes use of a series of those)…as the singer’s voice transports us first.

♫ In Dublin’s fair city…where the girls are so pretty…
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone. ♫

♫ As she wheeled her wheelbarrow,
Through streets broad and narrow. ♫

♫ Crying “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!” ♫

Most of you would know that during the World War II Great Britain was bombed for days in end by the Nazis. Entire communities would camp out in tube stations for safety, and this – the Aldwych tube station – is one of them. Hester arrives at the station to do the unimaginable and her mind takes her back to the memory…but why?

“[...] what I do find extraordinary about life is that a very simple thing can alter a decision. After the phone call [to Freddie], Hester decides, he doesn’t love me, I’m going to kill myself. And while she’s waiting for the train to come, she remembers what it was like during the war, when London was bombed 72 nights in a row during the Blitz. And it’s that memory, and of someone singing—because they did sing down in the tube; people danced as well, would you believe?–that stops her from doing something dreadful.” Terence Davies interview, link.

The above is from this fantastic interview with Davies about the film and his explanation is better than any I could have given. It’s the use of the song “Molly Malone” which gets me, though – a song which has become an unofficial anthem of the city. The melancholy nature of the song about a fictional fishmonger who succumbed at a young age is at one with the scene in the Blitz but it might seem incongruous to the present day Hester. But, has there even been as beautifully despondent a song which has the refrain of “alive, alive”. Even as (minor spoiler) Hester does not commit suicide at the film’s end it’s still a film borne out of melancholy and this moment – one of the a-ha ones for her – depends on being sad even as it is hopeful.

♫ “Alive, alive, oh, Alive, alive, oh” ,Crying “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh.” ♫

♫ Now, she was a fishmonger, But sure 'twas no wonder,
For so were her father and mother before,
And they each wheeled their barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!” ♫

♫ “Alive, alive, oh, Alive, alive, oh” ,Crying “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh.” ♫

And, it’s just the way that everyone joins in for the chorus that explicates such a significant part of the film without being too heavy-handed. We’re too invested in Hester’s admittedly, occasionally, foolish machinations to judge her too harshly. But she is being foolish, and it’s important for her to realise it on her own. It’s only the first step towards being comfortable on her own, but it’s an important one.

♫ She died of a fever,
And no one could save her
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone.
Now her ghost wheels her barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!” ♫

And that shot of Hester and William always gets me. Even as Hester is in turmoil in the present, and even as she looks comfortable here in the past she doesn’t look nearly as passionate as we know her. She and her husband quote Shakespeare in a later scene talking about love which “comforteth like sunshine after rain….But lust’s effect is tempest after sun.” There’s certainty what she has for Freddie, but it’s certain she’s more vibrant even as she is devastated in the present.

Hester Collyer presents, I’d imagine, a difficulty for her any performer. Her inclinations seem specious – her marriage is unexciting but hardly dreadful, and only she can be blamed for the loveless adulterous relationship she’s now in. At least, that’s the surface. The treatment of the character itself, and Rachel’s performance, is so nuanced that even as you’re hard-pressed to agree with Hester it’s impossible to not understand her. Davies says, in the cited article, how this particular scene is influenced by Celia’s own almost-suicide attempt in Brief Encounter. But, Davies has Hester utter no “I couldn’t do it”. For one, no one’s around to hear it, and the fact that her decision not to succumb is written on her face makes it that much more profound.

So, she leaves the tube.

And it’s not all smooth sailing…but there’s a reminder of the other hardships in life. Even at her most pathetic Hester says earlier “It’s sad, but hardly Sophocles” and in a way this scene, by looking at truer, realer, tragedies in life accentuates that. So, as she walks off there’s not necessarily a certainty of hope, but there is a faint promise…

Go HERE to see the 32 previous entries of Scene on a Sunday, from All About Eve through West Side Story.

The Deep Blue Sea opened in London cinemas last fall and went into wide release and the US this march. The DVD has been out for two weeks now. The sedate poetic nature is not for all, but it’s a film well worth seeing for the vivid performances (Weisz in particular) and the deft handling of a closed-off play on the screen turning in an almost chamber-room play into a fluid lyrical song for the screen. Also, gorgeous photography.


MovieNut14 said...

My favorite scene was Hester and Freddie's conversation in the darkened apartment. Scenes like this could easily become overwrought thanks mainly from the actors displaying too much emotion. But Hiddleston and Weisz definitely know what they're doing here. I don't know about your stance on this but after watching this scene, I hope Hiddleston gets some recognition alongside Weisz.

(Oh God, I've become a film snob. I blame you, Andrew. Your ways have rubbed off on me.)

Amir said...

Ugh I wrote a long comment and blogger ate it up.
The essence of what I was saying was that I agree with you on the fact that Weisz has never looked this beautiful and I think it's because she's never been so evocative.
I like the way she balances an ever-present sense of tranquility with her unsettled behaviour. I think that tranquility work very well within the mood of the film.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

anna weisz is my MVP, yes, but I go back and forth between preferring beale and hiddleston. Both do fine things with their performances. beale has that great conversation with her at the beginning, hiddleston the long one with her at the end. it's my favourite thing from tom, thus far, intrigued to see what he does next.

amir blogger is evil! yes. that comment might sound paradoxical to someone who hasn't seen it, but she's overwrought yet calm and i can't quite put my finger on the how or the what but it really works.