When I first read your entry in “The Great Villain Blogathon” I thought: “Ohhhhhh, CJC IS the villain of this piece.” I’ve read someone’s entry where she does Mrs. Iselin in the first-person so naturally I thought you might be taking this poetic license…
But anyone who can work in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” ( I love those rat bastid sociopaths ) with David Lean‘s “Brief Encounter” must be a mad evil genius of a writer. Now as a woman who’s been picked up, with pleasant results, and who tends to see the glass half-filled where movies are concerned, I have to say I like “Brief Encounter” and buy all the ( as you might say ) romantic claptrap. I love the good cry I have with this film.
You lay it all out brilliantly.
Your analysis makes me think of Henry Jones’ inquest coroner for Madeleine Elster in “Vertigo”; no frills… dispassionate…just the facts …the Letter of the Law of things. ( In fact you bat around and taunt the plot like Jones did young Patty McCormack in “The Bad Seed” ). You speculate and infer and Trevor Howard ( as Dr. Alec Harvey ) comes out as a pretty bad sort of rotter in all this. ( “Preda- tor.” “Serial lech.” No such things as accidents? Wowee! Ouch! ) I confess my cinematic fantasies runs to tall, dark and handsome matinee idol types, so my even defending Howard comes as a shock to my shallow self. But I like him in this and don’t think he’s as bad as you paint him. I’ve got to show this movie just a l’il love in the face of all your cogent points.
The flashback trope is always tricky ‘cuz it is fate as fait accompli, and the narrator of the flashback doesn’t have an omniscient take on things. I take Celia Johnson’s Laura at her word in all this. This isn’t Rashomon. There’s no reason for me to disbelieve her point of view of things. Very few movies deal with things from the point of view of a woman anyway, it’s such a man’s world in movies (heroes, protagonists initiating and moving the story forward). This is one woman’s account of her brief flirtation and attraction with said doctor. It’s during the war or the war’s just about ended ( 1945 ) and these aren’t two twenty-somethings jumping hot ‘n heavy into the sack. They’re two ordinary people who find themselves swept up by emotions none of them were looking for.
Getting caught in his friend’s flat was pretty awkward. I never get the sense that this is just a repeat scenario Alec has been in with a slew of lonely hausfrauseses. ( What IS the plural of hausfrau anyway ? ) You say we only have Alec’s word of what he’s told Laura about that meeting; sure, if we keep with The Logic of the Flashback. But for me everything’s hinged upon he’s not lying, therefore Laura’s not lying to us having been filled with a pack of lies from a cad.
“Not yet. Not quite yet,” is one of the most romantic things I’ve heard. He cannot bear to let go of this attraction just yet. She’s holding all the strings. It’s not that he’s stone cold. He just doesn’t push her really…or rush her. It’s crazy but for some reason I envisioned Alec going through the same thing as Laura at his home: the routine, the rut, the boredom; nothing so teddibly terrible to upend the apple cart and leave his family…but something missing, gnawing at him. I imagined him going through the same thing at home.
In the end, for Laura, marriage is more than about Love. It’s about loyalty and honesty
( little white lies don’t count ) and one’s word being one’s bond. She was needed at home. SHE had to be the one to think for both of them ( like Bogie in “Casablanca” ). If she had told Alec NOT to go to Africa, he would have stayed. If he’s a cad about anything it’s that he lets HER make all the decisions. But I didn’t find him to be a cad. I thought they were two mature adults who found they had a deep attraction, even if it was only ten hours old. ( Ha! Talk about counting the minutes! )
I enjoyed what you wrote. My jaw dropped several times while reading your take on things. I literally said “Oh Wow!” OUT LOUD, “That’s a way of looking at this.” But I have to tell ya, I read it with my head, but not my heart.
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