Sunday, February 8, 2009


CHICK FLICK MARRIAGE TIP: When recounting your illicit love affair in first-person voiceover narration, be sure your husband isn’t in the room and listening.


A lonely Brit housewife, a lonely non-time-traveling doctor, the dank train station of love, sugar in the spoon, proof that bad movies bring people together, Lean’s intimate epic, the second best Howard/Johnson, and excellent candidates for the Big Book of British Smiles.

More details here.


England, late 1930s. Laura (Celia Johnson) is a British housewife with two precocious kids, an officious husband, and a humdrum life. She spends her Thursdays catching a train to do the shopping in a town called Milford. And at the end of each Thursday, she stops by a quaint café at the train station for a cup of tea before her train arrives. One fateful day, she gets dirt stuck in her eye and asks for assistance in the café. Helpful doctor Alec (Trevor Howard) restores her vision and the two exchange pleasantries. Over the next few weeks, Laura and Alec run into each other, have lunch, and spend the afternoon at the cinema (what you uncouth Americans call “the movies”). They continue their rendezvous and get to know one another by walking in the park, renting a canoe on the lake, and watching terrible movies. Eventually, we discover that the pair are both in unfulfilling marriages, are desperately lonely, and have fallen passionately in love. But Brit manners, stiff-upper lips, and all that lot will prevent them from realizing their passion in public or in a sordid bedroom of any type. Regardless, they continue their regular Thursday get-togethers, try to keep their secret from Laura’s gossipy friends and Alec’s holier-than-thou colleagues, and avoid thinking about the inevitable doom their relationship faces. But one of them will have to make a fateful decision, whether to abandon their dreary lives and begin anew, to continue their sordid encounters, or to never see one another again. And by the end of this story, you will feel Laura and Alec’s pain as none of these choices offer relief from complete devastation.


David Lean is the undisputed master of the sprawling epic movie. His films Lawrence of Arabia and Passage to India explore the vast landscape and visual splendor of the natural world and the drama that can be found within it. Based on a one-act play by Noel Coward, Lean’s Brief Encounter explores landscapes of a different kind, that of human needs and the turmoil of life’s emotional choices. The movie is intensely romantic, revealing the aspect of love that most romantic movies tend to avoid - that love is sometimes miserable, often painful, and really sucks. That’s not to say that the movie is unpleasant or depressing. The Laura and Alec characters find true adoration for one another and in exploring that feeling we are treated to watching it grow, despite the social formalities, family burdens, and the suffocating nature of societal expectations. And the historical setting of the film is not without significance. In the late 30s, England was still getting over the tumult of the First World War and this environment allowed these people to not only celebrate their freedom, but also question their roles in society in the pursuit of that freedom. But when reality sets in, when the grimness of familial obligation reveals itself, and when guilt and morality turns its ugly head in affairs of the heart, there is no painless decision. And the movie drives this point down to the last second. The flashback structure with narration by Johnson is effective as the audience is brought into Laura’s world with soul-crushing intimacy. Both principals are excellent, the stark cinematography is gorgeous, and the script is brilliant. I mean, you got Noel freakin’ Coward and David Lean, two British masters. Sheesh. Brief Encounter brings two worlds together. One, a wonderful place where love blossoms in the most common of places under the most ordinary of circumstances. And two, the world of reality where there are no Hollywood endings and no walks into the sunset, hand in hand. But in the time where hope promises such a walk, at least you felt something remarkable, something life-affirming, and something genuine, if all too brief.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was lovely.