45 Years: Can You Ever Really Know Someone?
No, I think I was enough for you. I’m just not sure you do.
45 Years written and directed by Andrew Haigh (he directed Weekend and was part of the editing crew for such films as Gladiator and Black Hawk Down) is one of the most devastatingly intimate domestic dramas ever put to screen. On the surface Geoff (Tom Courtenay of Doctor Zhivago, Gambit, and Quartet) and Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling of I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, The Duchess, and Melancholia) are on rock solid ground. They’re comfortably well off, have a lovely home filled with books and a piano, great friends, a beautiful German Shepherd, and seem quite comfortable about their childlessness. They are even about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary and what can be stronger than so many years of marriage?
But it turns out there’s been a ghost haunting the Mercer marriage all these years; Geoff Mercer’s first love Katya, who died in a tragic climbing accident over fifty years before. Her body has now been found and with that revelation minute cracks begin to form in the Mercer marriage. It soon becomes clear that Geoff (a tremendous performance by Courtenay who can make his character sympathetic while subtly demonstrating his flaws) has never entirely gotten over Katya. As more and more secrets about Katya are revealed, Kate is left reeling from the realization that none of what she believed about her marriage may have been real. 45 Years doesn’t do big melodramatic scenes or speeches but rather lets the tension unfold through quieter moments where repressed feelings seethe to the surface.
Charlotte Rampling was (deservedly) nominated for an Academy Award for her performance here. Her insensitive (and frankly dumb) comments on the Oscar Diversity controversy probably cost her the Gold Statue, but that doesn’t diminish what she accomplishes as an actress here. Rampling as Kate can convey more with a subtle twist of her mouth and a flash of her eyes than most performers can with 10 minute monologues and her expressions in her final scene, dancing with Geoff to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” are quite simply haunting.