“BRIEF ENCOUNTER” ( 1945 )
“This can’t last. This misery can’t last.”
…But it helps if you have a great voice-over to tell its story.
“Brief Encounter” is so poignantly and lovingly told that seventy years later, its heartache is still felt. ( SPOILERS ) Talk about timeless. ( Come on TCM, show it at the festival next month. I want to hear an auditorium filled with sobs and blubbering. ) I like how the movie begins at the end. This way, when the scene plays again after we’ve seen what’s gone on before, the end has much more meaning.
A chance meeting by a doctor and a housewife is filled in a short time with deep intimacy.
Nothing’s blatant and explicit, mind you. Walks in the park, a trip to the cinema, canoeing, lunch…they cram their entire experience into a short amount of time. You can be cynical if you like ( but don’t do it here ) and say they really won’t know each other until they live the day-to-day life of laundry and uncapped toothpaste tubes. But I like to think they’d weather that.
The movie is a model of restraint. When they first become interested in each other their talk of love is underneath their conversation about medicine. This is not a blazingly glam, twenty-something couple boozing around blitzkrieged London and rolling in the deep. The film stars Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. They’re mature, older and we watch as their love slowly blossoms. And it’s not the – things keeping them apart – that makes their love so strong. Okay, ya got me; if I’m being honest, a bit of absence and anticipation of their every Thursday meetings might factor into this. But that’s okay, as viewers, we’re vested in their meetings too.
Tell me how YOU felt when she waited and waited for him and he didn’t show up. Tell me how YOU felt when they do kiss.
They have a growing affection for each other and we’ve watched it grow before OUR very eyes. We don’t see his homelife, but we do see hers. And we see what’s at risk.
Yes, we see some of the day-to-day life she leads. Her children squabble, her husband takes her somewhat for granted. But we know there’s more going on there. They’ve built a life together with their two children. He’s no brute. He loves her. How can the day-to-day outweigh the excitement of being in love with someone who really listens and understands you? It does carry weight. Commitment to what you promise does carry weight. When she comes from a rendezvous and hears her son’s been injured, she snaps into Mommy mode immediately to run to him without a moment’s hesitation. I like that they don’t make the husband out to be an ogre.
She can’t live in these two worlds much longer, and will have to make a choice when he tells her he’s been offered a medical position in South Africa. He’ll stay if she wants him to stay. The movie continues its thread of restraint. Her decision is goodbye. They have to say goodbye without even saying “Goodbye.” This has got to be worse than Rick sending Ilsa off on that plane with his little speech. At their last time meeting together, an acquaintance of hers intrudes on this scene and doesn’t get the hint to leave. To see Trevor Howard’s hand squeeze Celia Johnson’s shoulder in that final silent goodbye is more than I can bear. Johnson – so polite she won’t interrupt the lady TO have a moment alone with him. Howard – follows her lead of silence, instead of scooping her into his arms and out of that railway lounge to say a proper goodbye. It’s all like a bandage being torn off a scab. The pain sears as flesh is torn away, small specks of blood reveal a wound re-opened. How else can I describe watching their last moments.
Love is not necessarily a volatile combustible thing. Words don’t matter…emotions are vivid. Johnson’s voice-over in “Brief Encounter” is what she’d like to tell her husband about what is going on with her. She’d like to share her inner voice, her inner life, but cannot. How many husbands have unknowingly dodged a bullet because of their wives’ sense of responsibility and duty. Johnson’s family would be lost without her. See this movie and listen to what her husband says and you’ll know why, though her heart is breaking and she’s no longer the same woman she was before that cinder blew into her eye, she stays.
Next: “ROMAN HOLIDAY” ………..