Thursday, January 27, 2011

'Quiet desperation'

I wanted to really really like the movie Another Year, directed by Mike Leigh. After seeing it last night, I ended up somewhat liking it. Loving it? No. In fact, I ended up a bit irritated—I’m not sure at what. Myself for sitting through it? The theme? The passivity in the film? The depressing aspects in the film? The real-life aspects? The ending? There are so many things I could find fault with. I wonder if I expected something different. The acting was superb. But I guess I wanted something more than I got. I felt a bit cheated at the end, because we’re asked to care about characters about whom we’ve learned very little.

To paraphrase Pink Floyd, “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way” from their song Time may actually be the clue to my feelings of irritation. The film is decidedly British from start to finish, and that is usually fine with me, as I am a real anglophile when it comes to most British film and TV dramas—such as the Jane Austen, Charlotte (and Emily) Bronte, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy tales made into films and series. It’s just that in this particular case, I felt like screaming a few times during the film and at the end—“do something”. I wanted some life to be injected into an otherwise rather dreary daily existence (non-life) for many of the characters. They mostly did nothing—lived life in the same way as they had done for years, passively waiting for life to change instead of trying to change it actively. This may be how some British people (and other people in other lands) live, but I am not sure it is how all of them live. I have read so many reviews of the film that talk about how blissfully-married Gerri and Tom are, and to be sure, their relationship is nice. They respect each other and are kind to each other after many years of marriage, but I found their relationship to be somewhat superficial. Perhaps that is what happens after so many years of marriage, but I never got the feeling that they were passionate about anything. They did what they needed to do but there was no real excess of feeling, either toward each other or toward their friends. There were a couple of instances when Gerri offers silent comfort to one or two friends, but otherwise I felt that Gerri and Tom kept their emotional distance. Emotional distance, or a kind of remoteness from the world around them, or efficient emotionality (just enough but no more) seemed to be the secret to their happiness. If this is true, it’s rather interesting, but nothing was made of this or of much else. As it was, so much in the film was understated, and that may be the British way. The presentation of the lives of their single friends was an exercise in slow torture. Mary and Ken (who was interested in Mary who rebuffed him) are single middle-agers who seem to have found no meaning in life whatsoever. Mary has a crush on Joe, Gerri and Tom’s son, who ends up with a girlfriend (Katie) by the time autumn comes and this sends Mary into a downward spiral. While the actors did an excellent job at portraying such lives on film, it was the most depressing depiction of single life I have seen up to now. Nothing in Mary or Ken’s lives seemed to work. They were unhappy, miserable, emotional vampires (especially Mary) who sucked the life out of most of the people with whom they came into contact. Perhaps there was some hope for Ken, I thought, since he seemed to be more jovial, but no, he was apparently close to being suicidal. If I was a single person and saw these types of portrayals, I’d be pissed as hell. I’d wonder, my God, is this how the world sees single middle-aged people—as a sorry lot of folk who are just desperate for happiness and meaning? Is that the only thing that gives their lives meaning—desperation for love and acceptance? What about their jobs? What about participating in charity work? There was nothing. While I know that some single people suffer from loneliness after many years of living alone, I know others who have made a lot of their lives. It is so unfair to peg singles in this way. I would have liked to have seen a middle-aged single person in this film that was happy, or if not happy, at least content with life. They do exist. It would have balanced out the misery. Tom’s brother Ronnie, newly-bereaved, was another silent stone-like personality. He didn’t seem to like his deceased wife very much, and he had no relationship whatsoever with his son Carl. Yet this is presented as though there is something very much wrong with Carl (who is a quite angry individual), when in fact this is the first time in the movie that there is any real life at all. I was interested to know why Carl was angry. How had he grown up? Did he have a good relationship with his mother? Why was his relationship with his father so awful? But none of these questions gets answered, and they are the interesting questions. It’s as though Mike Leigh is saying that in order to survive in this life and be happy, you have to dampen your feelings and your passion and live totally on an even keel. That would be impossible for most people I know. And if you do all this, you achieve balance and harmony, yes, but do you really know the people around you, the people with whom you are living? No wonder Carl was angry. There didn’t seem to be much honesty. And perhaps that is what I was looking for. Why couldn’t Gerri have said to Mary that she was hurt by her behavior toward Katie and Joe? Why did she save it all up for months at a time? Real friends would have talked it over. As it was, they were not real friends. So these are the things that stick in my mind. I guess you could say the film made an impression on me, but I think I would have been fine not having seen it. It did not really add any new insights to my life. And that is what I am looking for when I go to films like these. 


  1. wow, i think you missed your calling :) movie critic! you did a great job convincing me that this one is one to skip!

  2. Thanks design6. I need insights otherwise why am I there? I could watch a comedy instead. Check out Woody Allen's film--You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger--I really enjoyed it.