The Long Day Closes is a strange film. It is a movie about a boy who watches. He doesn’t see or look, he watches. This boy, called Bud in the film but I don’t know if that’s a nickname or his given name, loves going to the movies to escape his mid 1950’s life in Liverpool, England. When he goes he can just watch and get a story. Everything makes sense there and nobody does anything off script. That’s not to say that Bud’s life is filled with trauma. He gets bullied at school a little, and he can’t hang out with his older brothers and sisters as much as he’d like to. In fact, when he’s not at a movie he treats his window like a screen unto the world. He sits and watches as people go about their days and it rains and new buildings get erected and old buildings crumble. He sees everybody and constructs them into a film of his own, including a score for every scene and even some borrowed dialogue from movies like Meet Me in St. Louis. Early on he daydreams about a ship sailing by instead of paying attention in class. It’s a majestic moment, but it’s not typical of the film. You won’t find many flights of fancy here. What you will find is a beautiful and engrossing film about growing up and out of things.
There’s a lot for a guy like me to empathize with in Bud. I, too, like to watch. I like to construct people into characters playing out their roles for my enjoyment. I like to watch people do whatever it is that they are doing and make up the “why” for their “what.” For the most part, A Long Day Closes invites us to imagine what Bud is imagining. It doesn’t show us his creations, his scenes. We see him watching and we watch along with him but he never voices his thoughts. The film moves at a slow pace and lasts for only 85 minutes, but that’s enough time for us to know Bud and know what it’s like to be him. He struggles with his religion and sexuality and his watching and creating is enough to convey this. We see him pose his family as the Last Supper at Christmastime. We see him praying and then imagining the nails being driven into Jesus’s hands. It’s the epitome of show, don’t tell.
And how glorious the showing is. The film is full of long shots that move slowly but deliberately towards a subject. Seasons change in a minutes-long shot of carpet as the light shines and then fades, shines and fades again. It opens with a long shot of a street and pouring rain. The shot lasts for a whole song (Nat King Cole singing “Stardust”) and the camera moves down the street, seemingly war-torn, and up into Bud’s house. It feels like it’s raining in there too. Later in the film we hear a part of a lecture about erosion and the many forms it can take. It closes with a dream-like vision of death (or something). As the erosion lecture continues Bud enters the basement of his house and it looks like a bomb has exploded there. The debris is strewn and more falls in from the top of the shot. Bud looks around and then enters a dark doorway. If this film is autobiographical (it is both written and directed by Terence Davies) we can assume that he didn’t literally die, but maybe his childhood is dead. The movies teach us to be optimistic. Usually things work out in the end (and the end is only two hours away, if that). Maybe the ending is Bud realizing that movies aren’t showing us the world as it is, the world as he wants – wills – it to be. The movies present a kind of faux reality, the same faux reality that school and religion present us. The parallel between these three institutions is beautifully expressed in a series of overhead dolly shots that fade between the theater and school room and church pews, everywhere that pretend to give the answers about how everything works. It’s after this series of shots that Bud enters his destroyed basement and then the doorway to nothing. He has been torn down, entering somewhere he can’t even see into. It’s the scariest thing somebody who watches everything can do.