#861 45 Years
2015 // UK // Andrew Haigh
Criterion Collection (LINK)
45 Years is actually a horror story about an aged married couple haunted by the resurgence of a ghost associated to the past of the husband and subsequently crumbles their marital relationship. I find it much scarier in the second viewing as I have underestimated the daunting effect upon realization of a 45 plus years relationship just disintegrated within a week time, I wonder how could I trust the word love anymore? Sorry if you read the introduction and then go watching the film expecting a real ghost and some jump scares, the above mentioned is just metaphorical. The “ghost” in 45 Years is indeed the inalterable devastating past buried deep in one’s memory, it is the insufferable pain of losing the one you love, it is the undefeatable opponent who is perpetually frozen in time and remained perfectly in remembrance.
Cowritten by the director Andrew Haigh himself and David Constantine, the writer who wrote the 12-page short story In Another Country the film based on, the story spanned for one week till the 45th wedding anniversary of Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay). I have recently revisited Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight (2013) which I think it’s a great companion film to watch together with 45 Years. Both films concern “time” as an impeding factor in the marital relationship, while Before Midnight regards the duration of time within a marriage, 45 Years interests in a specific time before the marriage in which the 45-year marriage is incomparable. That specific incident serves like a time bomb which eventually goes off with a trigger. Thus the the letter from the Swiss authorities to Geoff is that specific trigger. Geoff is informed of the discovery of the body of his great lost love Katya in a glacier, who lost her life by misstepping into a cleavage during mountain-climbing with Geoff in 1962, a time before Geoff met his future wife Kate. The news reopens a scar that once thought to be healed completely. Geoff tries his best to act calm and Kate still notes the adrift status of her husband, even though Geoff’s health and metal condition have been deteriorating for the past couple years (Geoff’s health issue is the reason why they did not celebrate the 40th anniversary and postpone it till the 45th).
The film plays with subtly progression in illustrating a relationship upon challenge that seems to go off the rails in any minutes. Geoff starts to listen to the music and read the book (for example Kierkegaard) associated to her long lost love, he secretly visits the travel agent enquiring about trip to Switzerland, or stealthily goes up to the loft in the middle of the night looking for Katya’s photo. But the most gut-punching scene is the final revelation of Ketya’s secret during the slides show while Kate goes through them one by one in the loft alone, the clicking sound of the slide projector cuts like a knife onto Kate’s vulnerable heart, it’s as appalling as the slicing high-pitch score by Bernard Herrmann during the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). The loft becomes a haunted place and the ghost finally catches up with Kate. Rampling personifies the internal pain, agony and jealousy, disappointment and regret in one performance, in particular her close-up in the last scene after her dance with Geoff in their anniversary party. Her expression is multifaceted, it juxtaposed perfectly with Tom Courtenay’s grounded performance.
The film takes Kate’s perspective throughout the entire film but it’s not a one-sided story, we would feel sympathetic towards Geoff as well. Undoubtedly, we understand Kate’s pain in realizing her fragile 45-year marriage is actually not withstanding to the test from a far earlier memory. On the other hand, we recognize Geoff’s love to Kate is genuine, even though it might not necessarily outweigh his lost lover upon quantification. Geoff’s marriage bears no children, nor many photos as the evidence of their marriage. It’s a sign that Geoff could not move forward from Katya’s death, like Katya’s body, his life is forever frozen from that point of time even though he believes otherwise. 45 Years is far from dramatic, it hinges on a deeper psychological depiction, it offers no definitive moral judgement on the relationship. Andrew Haigh has a keen eye for picking up subtle details that offer insight on characters’ internal status, and with the magnificent performance by the two leads, 45 Years is the modern classic of showing how love is not related to time, and one day when the ghost in the past catches up unnoticeably, nothing would matter anymore.