Brief Encounter – 1945
Director – David Lean
Starring – Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, and Cyril Raymond
So, I initially saw this film about two years ago. Why did I wait so long to review it, you might ask? I had just ended a bad relationship and while I was trying to throw myself into something creative (ie: this) I ran across this movie dealing with some relationship issues that I didn’t really feel like dealing with. So, I took a break. A rather long break, as it turns out, nearly two years.
In that two years, I have not been sitting idle. I jumped into other pursuits. Photography, drawing, and being a good father to my little guinea pig Oliver. On top of all that, I connected with my best friend. I must confess, not only is she my best friend, but she has been the girl of my dreams for years now, although she apparently had no idea of that little detail. We started hanging out and fell madly in love with one another. Low and behold, the stars aligned, I managed to trick her something fierce, and this Saturday we are going to get married.
Looking back on it in the light of day, Brief Encounter isn’t a very good film, certainly not one worthy of taking a break from writing for. So it is time to clear the past efforts out to make way for the future. Now since I didn’t feel like re-watching this film to get back up to speed on the details, you’ll get a brief synopsis of the plot, and a lot of my opinion of the story, with maybe only a little bit about the cinematography, or acting.
You have been warned!
Laura Jesson and Alec Harvey are in love. Or rather they are in love with each other. After meeting in a train station while waiting for their respective trains going in opposite directions, (keep in mind this is the mid 40’s people were less likely to ignore each other while on, or waiting for, public transportation.) they strike up a conversation, a friendship, and fairly quickly a love for one another after Alec helps Laura remove an errant piece of coal dust from her eye (again, it’s the 40’s, coal dust is a problem).
Sounds pretty straight forward right? Well here comes the complication…each of them is already married to another person. The two manage to bump into each other accidentally at first, then as time passes it becomes a regular, expected occurrence, all under the radar of their unsuspecting spouses. Alec is a doctor who works at a hospital in the same town that Laura comes to do her weekly errands, so after a while lunching together turns into, movies together. Movies turn into dinner, and dinner turn into the possibility of…well, this is England during the 40’s, so presumably it turns into a long-lasting mutual respect for one another without the need for physical contact (Okay probably not. Probably it will lead to sex).
Since their illicit meetings always end up at the train station, where each waits to head home to their spouses, the danger of running into people from their ordinary lives is quite high, and requires some misdirection in order to keep their romance a secret. To this end Alec and Laura go to great lengths. White lies, and fabrication to keep the suspicion low, and to keep the story from reaching home. At some point it becomes clear that they are going to have to make a decision, stop seeing each other and go about their lives, or continue seeing one another and damn the consequences.
The part that is so infuriating about each of the characters is that each is content to blunder merrily along in this rather doomed fling rather than being straightforward and honest with the people they are supposed to be closest to in their lives. While I understand the need for conflict in any story, much less a love story, I have to say that I find it hard to care too much about two such unrealistic, unsympathetic people.
And that’s it. You now have the whole plot. This rather small-scale story centers solely on this doomed relationship. It isn’t set against the back drop of some greater conflict, like a war, or an alien invasion. No other stories are interwoven in with this one, all we have are two characters playing out the last notes of a doomed relationship. Even on paper this story seems a little thin.
Celia Johnson plays Laura, this rather wish-washy, oaf of a woman, content to simply spend her day wandering the little town of Milford, shopping and going to the Matinee. Is there no re-building to be done in England in the mid 40’s? Nothing more constructive to be spending her time on? If i’m not mistaken her home country was just ravaged by the blitz, at least Alec is a doctor doing doctor things. Her method of floating through life flies in the face of the reputation of dedication and bravery that was typical of the British during the oppressive times of World War 2, and is, frankly, just frustrating.
Ultimately, they agree to break off seeing each other. They part ways, and immediately, Laura, runs home and tells her husband all about the affair she’s had…for some reason. Even more hard to decipher, he gives her a hug and tells her everything will be alright, rather than putting all of her stuff out on the lawn.
So you might be asking yourself, “Well, didn’t you like Lost in Translation, which was essentially the same story told in an updated and foreign setting?”, to which I would reply, “Yes!”. “That doesn’t make any sense,” you say, “what’s the difference?”, to which I reply “What are you? My mom? Get off my back.” When analyzing them both side by side, there doesn’t seem to be all that much different plot wise, but something about the isolation and wonder of being trapped in Tokyo made it seem…I don’t know, right. It’s been a few years since I saw Lost in Translation for the first time, and while it doesn’t have the lustre of when I first saw it, it manages to do something that Brief Encounter couldn’t. It manages to be better than the sum of it’s parts, and make you care for the people involved. Just as my initial impression of Lost In Translation has faded, so too will my negative one of Brief Encounter. That doesn’t mean it will get better, it just means I will have moved on and changed.