I finally got around to watching Charlotte Rampling’s recent film, 45 Years. I liked it. Even despite some deep flaws. The film raised interesting questions still rattling around in my mind a couple of days later. Incidentally, when I know I want to watch a particular film, I avoid looking at reviews first; but I often like reading reviews after watching it. Films I’m uncertain about whether to watch or not in the first place, on the other hand, get the opposite treatment – I’ll take a look at reviews first, to help decide whether to watch. So I read the New York Times’ review of 45 Years only after seeing the film. It was a good review, I recommend it, but it didn’t touch on a number of the film’s aspects I wish it had.
Rampling’s character (“Kate”) is unsettled by the discovery of the existence of a girlfriend her husband (“Geoff”) had before they, long ago, met and married. (I won’t say more about the story line in order to avoid spoiler effects.)
What struck me about Kate’s consternation was…well…its quaintness. After all, just how shocking or unsettling is it nowadays – or even in recent decades – to discover that one’s mate had a past love or lover, or, for that matter, past loves or lovers? Not very, right? Hence, Kate’s unhappiness at this unexpected discovery may be said to harbor a throwback romantic sensibility — say, to a simpler time, when more innocent and idealized romantic ideas held more cultural sway. But therein lies an interesting historical question, too: How much, after all, have young lovers nowadays actually abandoned some of the Camelot-like romantic idealism of, say, the generation that came of age in the 1950s? Does any young lover nowadays seriously believe that his or her true love is a “one and only” mate picked for them uniquely by fate, cupid, or some other cosmic agency? Does anyone still seriously depend on the notion that one’s true love never experienced a previous love interest or lover? Seems hard to believe – and yet, maybe, somehow, the symbolism and aura of that older romanticism still looms around young love even nowadays, if perhaps in an attenuated form.
If so, then maybe the story that unfolds in this film will manage to have resonance for, say, viewers younger than age 50. If not, then, younger viewers may well muse a little about what exactly Kate was so upset about.
Even I had to wonder that, frankly. Was it that Geoff had never before mentioned this earlier love? That possibility is actually dealt with very briefly in the film’s narrative, when Geoff suggests that bringing the subject of this old flame wasn’t exactly good conversational material for wooing Kate. But what of Geoff’s reticence later on and deeper into their 45-year marriage? A breaking point in the film’s story comes when Kate, in bed before sleep with Geoff, asks him a pivotal question about his relationship to this girl. I won’t say what the question was – again, to avoid spoiling. But that same question leads us back, once again, to the troublesome possibility that Kate’s view of her marriage rests on a foundation of 1950s-era overly idealized romanticism. If so – and that inference, it seems to me, is almost inescapable — then the film’s story becomes a kind of belated paean or homage to that same romanticism. But what kind of paean is it? A backhanded one at best. The ideal harbors a very heavy emotional cost, as the film’s final scene memorably, and sadly, portrays.
I have other quibbles with the film as well, I’m afraid. For one, I don’t think Geoff and Kate are well matched as an elderly couple. Even old, there should have been more chemistry between them. But putting all that aside, this is a strong film and well worth watching. There are layers of subtlety, like a lovely pastry. There is more than a little Bergman in this film, too – an homage one can appreciate unreservedly.