Brief Encounter (Review 6/09)

(I went on a movie review writing rampage in June of 2009. I had committed myself to watching 30 movies and writing 30 reviews of these movies in 30 days. As always, I started off with a vengeance. By day 18, I was wearing my brain out and losing my edge / getting lazy with my reviews. This was one of the earlier ones. It is not only one of my favorites of the bunch, but it also allowed me to be introduced to this movie masterpiece. Short, sweet, and heartbreaking, it is a great piece of minimalism in film.)

When I was 21, a friend of mine recommended Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief as the perfect date movie. After following his suggestion up with research of my own, I found out that he was correct; the date went off without a hitch and better than expected. There are few romance films that truly work for me, mainly because today’s romance films follow the same few templates and rarely pluck the heartstrings like many of the older ones do. Before I get any further, I should probably mention that this is not one of my favorite genres because it has been tampered with these days to either mockery of passion or softcore pornography, neither of which draws any kind of emotion out of me. Fortunately, I decided to take a step back in time (not that I haven’t done many times already in this short marathon) and watch the kind of romance that works, and actually has a bit of realism in it: David Lean’s Brief Encounter.

David Lean was known primarily for his epic films, especially Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai. He made many films, and was the kind of director that painted a broad canvas of many genres by the time all was said and done. The only reason that I would have considered this title was due to a suggestion / partial review on the “Filmspotting” weekly podcast. I think that this review is dedicated more to those who are looking for that movie to either make them cry (women) or score points with their dates (men), but anyone can benefit from a read of this review and/or viewing of the actual movie itself; it can’t hurt!

The story revolves around two married people, Laura and Alec, who meet, either by accident or fate (depending on what you believe in) at a train depot café one Thursday afternoon. Laura, a “happily married” housewife and mother of 2, needs the assistance of Alec, a doctor, to get something out of her eye. As the title suggests, this is an extremely brief encounter that sets the stage for a lengthier, “brief” encounter for the next month. The two run into each other the following week at a restaurant, end of going to the movies, and innocently deciding the make another friendly date the following Thursday. As the weeks progress, so does the relationship, which builds itself to a romantic, yet melancholy, climax. This is all set against the background of Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto 2,” which ends up being the perfect mood enhancer throughout the entire film.

Conflicts of internal manipulation, rationalization over impulsivity, guilt, and/or paranoia make this story fairly realistic considering the fantastical element of “love at first sight” (or second sight in this case because Laura had something lodged in her eye on first sight so her vision would have been slightly impaired) that presents itself when Alec tells Laura he loves her on their third date. There is a very existential element of choice versus fate in this film. Since we only hear the story through Laura’s first-person, diary-style narration, we can only make assumptions about Alec’s intentions, but it seems that the element of fantasy and the desire to want something out of the norm, play significant roles in Laura’s decisions to revisit Alec each Thursday, regardless of the subtle build up of guilt and paranoia each time she goes back home or asks for a friend’s help in “backing up her story” (aka lying) to her husband.

“It’s awfully easy to lie when you know that you’re trusted implicitly…so very easy and so very degrading.” – Laura

Although Laura forces herself to say she is happily married, it is obvious from the scenes with Fred, her loving, loyal, yet sometimes oblivious husband, that the relationship lacks spark and is overwrought with formalities that don’t exist in her romantic fantasy world that she dreams about within her absence of Alec and when she meets him each Thursday. It is the driving force behind the romantic drive, but also the sad inevitability, of the story.

Guys…girls…see this movie…together. I didn’t cry, but I bet somebody out there has / will over Brief Encounter. It may not be a perfect story, and fairly sappy at times, but I am happy to give it an A.

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