“Lust isn’t the whole of life, but Freddie is, you see, for me. The whole of life. And death. So, put a label on that, if you can.”
This is not the movie about super smart sharks that eat Sam Jackson. I’ve seen that movie probably like 10 times. This film, different in that it has a “The” in the title, is a drama about a romantic triangle that has very little romance in it. Mostly, it’s a movie about regret and mistakes and expectations. It’s not the stuff of blockbusters or mutant animal films, but it is the stuff of a top 10 movie of the year. Terence Davies wraps this sad story in a warm blanket of long scenes and long takes and longing stares out of windows. It’s a story of emotional connections that don’t connect and as such is not exactly a happy occasion. But with the lighting and soft focus Davies turns what could be a cold film into a wonderfully affecting movie.
I’ve only seen one other Terence Davies movie, The Long Day Closes, which I reviewed on this site. That film is a coming-of-age movie and it, too, is a sad tale told warmly. In fact, the two movies could be happening concurrently. In The Deep Blue Sea, Hester (Rachel Weisz) leaves her older husband (Simon Russell Beale) for a WWII pilot, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) in 1950 London. All three are fantastic in the film and I’m sure Weisz and Hiddleston will get a lot of recognition as we roll into awards season. Weisz is one of our more lively actresses and to see her play depressed and repressed is a tragedy in its own right. We know that she can be so vivacious but here we only get a suicidal and ultimately lonesome woman. Hiddleston doffs his Loki helmet and puts on the charming suit of a former RAF pilot who inspires love in Hester but can’t seem to return the favor. It’s that difference between her love for him and his less effusive response that creates the drama of the film.
The movie consists of a few scenes in the love affair between Hester and Freddie temporally jumbled. Mostly, I think, this is due to the out-of-order scenes being memories Hester conjures to make herself even more miserable. Two scenes stand out in the memory department. One has the young couple taking in an afternoon at the museum. Hester tries to get caught up in the artwork but Freddie can’t quite connect and gives up, declaring that he’s off to see the Impressionists since the cubists aren’t doing anything for him. It’s a scene of two ships passing in the night. Maybe they can tell that the wake is there, but they’ll never see each other. The other memory comes as Hester rushes down to the tube station where she and her husband hid during the war. Her memory is a long tracking shot showing how people built and kept alive a hope of normalcy even while living underground. Each family has a little space set up and curtains to separate them. But they come together in song as Davies is fond to do. They recreate their community in dire circumstances and at the end of the shot is Hester and her husband, embracing and, it seems, loving each other. After the memory ends she slowly ascends back to street level, crying at what she’s lost and for what.
This is a winter movie with lots of talk about catching a chill and the use of a gas fireplace for various purposes. But most importantly, it makes the last image devastating. Early on we see an impressionistic series of shots with Hester and Freddie intwined with each other in bed. The camera focuses, at one point, on their hands and how Hester grasps and re-grasps Freddies hand. At the end of the film all she has left of him is his golfing gloves which she handles in much the same way as she did with the real hand earlier in the film. It’s heartbreaking that the man she loved never loved her back and was practically just a shell which never reciprocated any feelings. The gloves, like Freddie himself, were only the form of a thing and not the thing itself. Freddie acted like a lover but never loved.