Saturday, March 5, 2016
I went to see "45 Years" because I had read that the movie is about how a 45-year marriage unravels with a piece of news. The news is seemingly harmless --- The body of the husband's German girlfriend, who had fallen in the Swiss Alps and been frozen for decades, recently resurfaced. Geoff, the husband, may be asked by the authorities to identify her body. It's an effective image: a beautiful young woman preserved in her prime, while her lover has grown old and shabby.
I couldn't quite fathom how such an event would unravel a 45-year marriage, given that, when the accident happened, the husband had not even met Kate, the current wife. Does Kate discover that Geoff was, in fact, a murderer, or even a serial killer? Well, of course not. That kind of a movie would not have received Oscar nominations, even if directed by Hitchcock. So curiosity led me to the cinema.
But we are given nothing beyond a most innocent history of Geoff's lost love. In 1962, Geoff was an idealistic, passionate young man, madly in love with the German woman Katya. They were on the verge of marrying each other before she fell into the icy abyss. Then he came back to England, met Kate, and married her. He did tell Kate about Katya but never told her the extent of his involvement with Katya. Now the past floods back. Geoff confesses to Kate that he was deeply in love with Katya but never told Kate all the gruesome details. Perhaps he had thought about Katya a lot, but quietly, during his long marriage.
Through Charlotte Rampling's performance and through the use of stormy weather and sound effects, we are being told that Kate is shocked and dismayed by this revelation. Resentment simmers within as she struggled to maintain a calm and understanding face, at least until Saturday after their 45-year anniversary party. I guess she's just that kind of women --- anything to keep up appearances.
But I was, like, so? I'm not claiming that such events are impossible, but this movie has not earned my buy-in. Why would a wife burn with jealousy for her husband's ex-lover who had died before he even met herself? I'm not ruling out the possibility that such women exist, but they are certainly not the norm, and to portray such an intensely jealous person requires a lot more explanation about her than the movie provides. With so, so many married people who have had ex-spouses and pre-marital relationships, this kind of jealousy and sense of betrayal makes no sense for people growing up in the 1960s. And after 45 years of marriage? Really? Again, maybe it could happen, but the storyteller has to earn it, and the writer/director did not.
In a couple of climactic scenes, the root cause of Kate's intense anger at Geoff seems to be explained. She discovers that Katya was pregnant before her death. The writer implies that Kate's intense jealousy is directed at that pregnancy, as Kate herself have never had children with Geoff. Sounds logical, eh? But this does not hold up to further scrutiny, either. Why hasn't Kate had any children? If she did not want children or was infertile, she would have not reason to blame Geoff. Clearly Geoff was not infertile. So the only possible explanation was that Geoff convinced her not to have children with false rationale. He might have been traumatized by the loss of his unborn child by Katya (I won't get into how much sense this makes) so as to not ever want to have another child and dissuaded Kate from having children by making up some other reasons.
You might think I'm making all this up, as the movie tries really hard to conceal this theme. But just look at Rampling's face in a couple of key scenes and listen to her unspoken complaint that Katya has haunted their marriage all these years. What else could she be so angry about? That her husband had loved another woman before he met her? Indeed, throughout the movie, there are visual hints at how unhappy they both are because they have no children. So let me boil this movie down to a crude, simple summary: She wanted children. He didn't and convinced her not to. She acquiesced but always regrets it. Finally she discovers that the reason is his dead German lover. Boom. She is so angry at him now and feels so betrayed. Her life has been ruined by his lie.
Once I figured this out, my brain itched. There is something wrong with this story. I couldn't help but suspect that a man has written it. A woman would never tell a story about the choice of having or not having children in this way. I can see why men would imagine women to think this way but it is not how women actually think. When the end credits rolled I had to smile. Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, based on a short story by David Constantine. Can men and women truly understand each other?
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