Enduring Love (2004) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Enduring Love (2004)

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Andrew INDIFFERENTPsychological thrillers tend to gravitate towards some of the “sexier” issues in psychology.  Schizophrenia and multiple personality disorders are pretty common in films that need to supply a sudden twist.  Typically, it’s the sign of a lazy writer trying to throw a few curve-balls to the audience.  Which is why it’s refreshing and disappointing that Enduring Love provides an antagonist with a unique problem, and why the film squanders it away with a series of obvious directorial choices.

Enduring Love is based on the novel of the same name by Sir Ian McEwan.  I went on an extensive journey into his written works a couple of years back and found quite a few common threads throughout his stories.  Typically they feature a central character that has an unswerving devotion to one ideal that slowly has holes poked through it over the course of the novel.

The story of Enduring Love follows this trajectory, though expands the concept to include ideas of love instead of just the main characters scientific mind.  Joe (Daniel Craig) and his longtime girlfriend Claire (Samantha Morton) are enjoying a picnic in the park when a hot air balloon crashes nearby, throwing it’s pilot off and leaving his 10 year old grandson in the basket.  Joe and a few strangers rush to the balloon to try and drag it down but a strong gust of wind sends the balloon up into the air again.  They all hold on to try and keep it down, but one by one they let go leaving a single man high in the air.  He eventually let’s go and dies from the fall.  Sometime later the balloon touches down safely and the little boy is discovered unharmed.

This places Joe under an enormous amount of stress as he tries to rationalize what happened.  He runs through scenarios again and again where the man didn’t have to die.  Then Jed (Rhys Ifans), one of the strangers, complicates life further.  Jed believes that he and Joe shared a moment and have fallen madly in love.  He is in the grip of erotomania, and will not stop until Joe acknowledges the feelings that they share.

Ian McEwan uses this story in the novel to test the limits of scientific rationality.  The film takes a separate path, and instead questions the idea of love itself.  Multiple pairings are presented and hinted at over the course of the film.  Friends and acquaintances are all shown in various stages of romantic and physical attraction.  Then there is Jed, whose feeling are stronger and more pure than everyone else’s, but come from a far more unstable place.  The suggestion that you have to be a little crazy to love someone fully runs through every scene.

These scenes are the most fascinating because of the questions that they raise.  True love is meant to endure everything, but what are it’s limits?  Joe clearly eschews any notion of fate, yet cannot comprehend why Jed’s presences strains his relationship with Claire as he continues to try and rationalize Jed's behavior.  Does she really feel as strongly for him as he for her?  It’s clear that Jed is crazy but that only seems obvious to Joe.  Love is revealed as a shared obsession rather than the means of a healthy relationship.

Fascinating as the film may be in trying to talk through the concept of love, it falls into a lot of the same trappings as lesser films.  Jed, while a threatening force, is treated with some of the same stylistic trappings as Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees.  He has a psychic knowledge of where Joe will be and always shows up in the most dramatic way possible.  The last shot is particularly insulting to the story, almost suggesting that a sequel to this material is inevitable rather than saying that the story will continue on.

As strong as the acting is, this is a film that would have benefited from being made in the silent era.  The score undercuts a lot of the dramatic possibilities of the material and hurts otherwise flawless performances from the actors.  Jed appears?  Time to crank up the volume of the shrieking violins and underline the fact that he is unstable.  Sad moment between Joe and Claire?  Well, I guess the mournful cellos need to cry in unison so that the power of the scene is not lost on us.

I have to assume that these choices were beyond the control of director Roger Michell.  He’s made fantastic films  and while Enduring Love doesn’t completely work, it’s a pretty noble effort.  Instead it’s a smattering of great scenes held together with a premise that falls apart with the wrong execution.  Good try though.

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Enduring Love (2004)

Directed by Roger Michell
Written by Joe Penhall.
Starring Daniel Craig, Samantha Morton and Rhys Ifans.

Posted by Andrew

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