We all know what happens when a pebble kicks up on the highway and leaves a tiny crack on a windshield. The crack grows, slowly, inexorably, the life of the windshield numbered. So goes the tragic form: one bad choice, one unsettling piece of information, and the hero will never see the end of it. In Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, the crack forms in a marriage, and we watch it agonizingly spread.
Writer-director Haigh has a knack for burrowing under the skin of those who lead lives of ostensible creature comforts but creeping emotional discomfort. Best known for “gay-themed” projects (the lovely film Weekend and the nearly departed HBO series Looking), Haigh here adapts David Constantine's heterosexual-themed short story "In Another Country" to examine how a man and woman, poised to celebrate the titular anniversary, are forced by one bit of news to reexamine their entire history together, including the viability of their marriage.
Childless retirees Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) enjoy an upper-middle-class existence in the British countryside. News arrives, however improbably, of a body discovered in a Swiss glacier. The body, preserved since 1962, belongs to a girl named Katya, the girlfriend Geoff lost on a backpacking expedition when he was 25. When this news joins the couple at their breakfast table, the couple make an immediate tacit agreement that the gruesome revelation is unsettling, yes, but trivial.
And so the dishonesty begins or, to put it another way, continues, for both Geoff and Kate have their doubts, rediscovered along with Katya’s body. Behavioral shifts signal the unspoken, the couple’s domestic tranquility disturbed. A badly timed sexual mood marks the first bout of protesting too much, one that fizzles sadly. Geoff lets stubble grow out, and both he and Kate frequently find themselves lost in thought. From the dead, Katya shakes the couple’s sense of purpose, as individuals and in their consecrated union.
If Geoff is tortured by what might have been, Kate suffers the possibility that she has always been, and always will be, second best to the idealized girl frozen in that glacier. Haigh’s typically sensitive direction abets performances of heartbreaking personal and relational frailty from the Oscar-nominated Rampling and the unjustly neglected Courtenay. The final twist of the knife comes with the anniversary party, held at the same site as the battle-capping Trafalgar Ball in 1805 (but this won’t end like the Shakespeare comedy that relievedly concludes, “And time it is when raging war is done/To smile at ’scapes and perils overblown”).
Though Kate and Geoff sometimes blisteringly have it out, 45 Years locates its drama largely in micro-expressions and gestural nuances, the resistance to melodrama clarifying the film’s haunting staying power. Not unlike the characters, you may well find yourself living with the story’s revelations long after you wish you had forgotten their implications, about the long odds for romance, the deeper psychology of mating, and the devastating possibility that love isn’t an absolute but a willful, occasionally mutual, delusion.
Criterion offers a vital complement to its release of Andrew Haigh's Weekend with its special edition Blu-ray of Haigh's celebrated drama 45 Years. The handsome transfer (supervised by Haigh) displays the film at its best visual advantage. The nicely resolved picture has a filmic texture and accurate hues, excelling particularly in finely calibrated contrast and deep black level, which bolsters the image's sense of sharpness and detail. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix on hand must also be considered definitive, giving full body to the film's source cues while putting dialogue front and center with crisp clarity.
Criterion's disc comes with an audio commentary featuring Haigh and producer Tristan Goligher. The pair discuss the material's adaptation to the screen in the screenwriting phase, as well as details of the production, with mention of locations and a focus on the actors and the pacing achieved on set and reinforced in the editing room.
The excellent 2016 Criterion-produced documentary "The Making of 45 Years" (36:42, HD) includes interviews with Haigh, Goligher, actors Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, editor Jonathan Alberts, and director of photography Lol Crawley.
A new Criterion-produced interview with "David Constantine" (13:14, HD) allows the author of the short story on which the film is based, "In Another Country," to discuss his story and its themes, the ways in which Haigh has adapted his material, and Constantine's thoughts about the finished product.
Rounding out the disc is the film's "Trailer" (2:07, HD)
The release also comes with a typically informative Criterion booklet that provides artwork, itemizes cast and crew and tech specs, and including a critical essay by Ella Taylor.
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer