Thursday, March 27, 2014

Romantic Film Review - Brief Encounter

How many "affair" films work, so that you feel sorry for the cheating couple? It never happens right? And yet Brief Encounter is, at its core, a film about a couple who cheat on their partners. So why do we love it so very very much? It is easily one of the greatest love stories ever told, and it breaks my heart every time I see it.

The primary reason we love it, is that the number one topic is not the love shared, but the guilt, fear and tawdry nature of the affair. From the start the love affair is doomed, and both know they will never leave their partners. Neither Laura (Celia Johnson) nor Alex (Trevor Howard) ever try to blame their spouses for anything, nor justify what has happened between them. They acknowledge the truth of what is going on and that (in Laura's words) "something violent has happened" and that no matter what they feel, they must put an end to it.

The other magical thing about Brief Encounter is the so very ordinary look of Laura and Alex. They are not a breathtaking starlet and handsome rogue, they are ordinary people who are just going out their ordinary day. She is a housewife keeping herself busy and he is a simple GP taking care of his families income. They look like normal people. they are not courting what happens between them, they are not dissatisfied with their lives.

But of all these things, my very favorite thing about Brief Encounter is Laura's internal monologue. Brief Encounter is based on Noel Cowards play Still Life, and he co-wrote the screen play. Combine this almost perfect writing about the pain a woman encounters when she finds her life straying from her obligations, the love for her children and husband with David Lean's fantastic film making and you have a stunning representation of a woman's longings. Think particularly of the scene in the train when Laura has first told Alex she loves him. As she speeds home, she confesses to silly imaginings of her and Alex in romantic locations, flirting and loving one another. David Lean films this in the reflection of the trains glass, so that all the time we see the housewifely face of Laura reflected in the silly fantasies. It makes me cry every time, and is one of the most flawless evocation of female frustration I have ever seen.

If you've never seen Brief Encounter, grab it on DVD tonight. It might be better watched alone - there are a lot of frustrating things about the great film, and the last thing you want is to be sitting next to a husband who says the film is stupid because the lovers didn't have sex with each other - a comment that can be made so easily, and yet might haunt a partner if the other said it. It's not an easy film in many ways, but it is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) love stories ever told. The hand on the shoulder will haunt you forever.

I dare you to not cry at the last line when Laura's husband's saiys: "Thank you for coming back to me."

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