45 Years full movie review - marriage shaken by revelation of husband's old affair
Andrew Haigh's 45 Years is a seismograph of internal feelings, suppressions and revelations.
From his first remark, "My Katya," Kate feels her relationship undermined. He hasn't forgotten his first great love, nor fully informed her. As she later says, she fears he did not think she was wife enough for him. Perhaps it was in order to shield her from such discomfiting knowledge, Geoff kept back secrets from her, including that Katya died pregnant and that they had passed themselves off as married. His protection ? ostensibly of his wife but perhaps primarily of himself ? over the years undercuts her trust and security now.
The discovery of a body buried in ice is the film's most compelling metaphor. It signifies any secret or passion attempted to be hidden. Geoff didn't tell Kate enough about that relationship because he didn't want to confront it fully himself. Burial seems easier.
In her most crucial speech Kate says that Katya's constant but unrecognized presence in their marriage lay behind all their major and even minor decisions. Geoff bought her Katya's perfume, chose their holiday trips to avoid his Swiss memories and probably decided they would have dogs but not children. Having lost his first pregnant love he would not risk another. His aversion was contagious: Kate plans to buy him an anniversary watch but declines when the display is of Swiss watches.
So, too, Geoff's rejection of family photos. He preserves his cache of Katya pictures, however secreted in the attic, but they have not taken and hung pictures of Kate and him, or the dogs. The film's first metaphor occurs in the opening titles, which appear to the click of a slide projector. This sets up the attic scene where Kate discovers the slides of Katya, including the disturbing image of her pregnancy. The early scenes are in the shadow of that heard but unseen projector and the Katya truths it withholds.
The other major metaphor is fissure. Katya fell into a fissure in the glacier. Now her rediscovery creates a fissure in Geoff's and Kate's marriage. As Kate discovers Geoff's secrets she realizes she has had to bear the unequal share of their responsibilities. The third fissure is within Kate, as she incrementally falls out of love with Geoff and decides to escape their marriage. Once a teacher, now Kate learns a new truth about her marriage.
The breakup happens at their anniversary party, within the appearance of convivial celebration. Kate has expressed her desire to leave but urged him to go through with the party so others won't sense their fissure. He vows to "start again" ? in the usual way: buying her a little necklace, bringing her tea in bed, making her scrambled eggs, shaving for the event and making the obligatory speech off love and gratitude, ending in the obligatory ? and predicted ? tears.
For most of the party Kate's gallant conduct and smiles suggest she may have forgiven him and is willing to start anew. But as they take the floor to dance to The Platters' Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, her demeanour subtlety changes. As Geoff dances with increasing flash and flair she seems to sense an empty performance in him, which may also reflect back upon his speech. At one of his flourishes she snatches her hand away and steps back, signifying the end of their dance, probably of their marriage. The smoke has cleared from her eyes and she sees that his entire devotion to her has been based upon deception, his denial of his lost passion.
She also realizes that she has put up with his falsity and inadequacy for too long. Kate has had to make all the accommodations to sustain their marriage while he did what he wanted and didn't do what he didn't want to do. She married him at 20, when he was older and on the rebound from Katya. Having just lost her mother, she was vulnerable for a marriage that granted her duties rather than rights. Some marriages are like that.
Several long shots show Kate as an isolated figure in the open landscape. But Geoff is always shot close-up and encased or framed. She is the open and expansive one, he the restrained and secretive. Hence his glasses, which hide his eyes, and his beard, which hides most of his face and which he removes only for the party, after he has been exposed.
When Geoff describes his German he says the nouns are easy but the verbs are hard. He knows what things are but not what their relationships are, what the nouns, whether people or objects, do to each other or what happens between them. Relationships, the verbs, are the obedient wife's preserve.
Nor is Geoff entirely without our sympathy. He does love his wife and has acted as much as his understanding would allow in her interests. When he decides not to go to Switzerland he seems finally to have come to terms with the secret he left partially buried for the 45 years. We can believe he is grateful for Kate and wants to continue their marriage.
There have probably not been this year two film performances as subtle and powerful as the two leads here. Had Rampling been allowed a vehement eruption she'd be a lock on the Oscar. But this film is all subtlety, her experience all interior, and her eruption no louder then stepping out of the Platters' dance. The film's stage or arena is clearly Kate, so we often get long closeups of her quiet, nuanced responses while Geoff speaks. Rampling's inflections are astonishing. If this were a novel, her fleeting glance at the ukulele player would by itself warrant five pages of description.
This film is a privilege.