Mark Reviews Movies

The Deep Blue Sea (2012)


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Terence Davies

Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale, Ann Mitchell, Harry Hadden-Paton, Oliver Ford Davies, Barbara Jefford

MPAA Rating: R (for a scene of sexuality and nudity)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 3/23/12 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 31, 2012

The title comes from an idiom—to be caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea—that seems as contently lost in time as the central character in the film and the film itself. The whole phrase also served as the title of a song, popular in a different and earlier bygone era than the one in the film, which contains the lyrics: "I should hate you / But I guess I love you." The Deep Blue Sea is about people living in the midst of that clash between what one should do and/or be and what one feels is the right thing to do and/or be for no discernible—and oftentimes counterintuitive and counterproductive—reasons. The heart wants what it wants and all that; it's anybody's guess why that might be.

That is the simple yet great mystery—another sort of deep, unfathomable sea—at the heart of this story about three people who may or may not love another person. We cannot even take their word on the matter; emotionally, they are either unreliable or unavailable. One has lived too long in a world of propriety, where people do not discuss improper—or, in the word she decides to use later after discovering such things, "natural"—matters. It's a world in which the word "sex" is never uttered; "lust" and "infatuation" are scandalous enough.

Another has been scarred by battle. The film takes place in London "around 1950," and the war and its lasting impact are still fresh on the collective consciousness. The building that houses our heroine's apartment is adjacent to the ruins of another structure—bombed into unrecognizable rubble. Whether her lover—another word that might have been looked down upon at the time—had problems with matters of the heart before the war (He suggests that he did) is no matter; she is certain that his life ended in 1940, at which point he took to the skies to fight the Battle of Britain. We and she only know of him after that, and he can only describe his mental state since then using the familiar military slang acronym FUBAR.

The woman is Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), the wife of a judge named William (Simon Russell Beale), who is, obviously, the third party in the love triangle. Their marriage is another mystery. We find out later that her reason for marrying William is simple: He asked her (Since that information comes from in a moment in which someone is attempting to insult Hester, it might not be fully accurate, although it sounds right). All we know for certain is that it is, at least on her part, loveless.

This may not have always been the case, and a flashback to the two of them taking shelter in the Underground during an air raid—as the people around them sing of "sweet Molly Malone" to calm their nerves—suggests some tenderness, as he sings quietly to her and she caresses his coat. When we first meet Hester, though, she is preparing to commit suicide after being scorned by another man.

He is Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), a magnetic and lively charmer and the Air Force veteran whose life has never been the same since he fought. She takes a handful of aspirin, turns on the gas to her apartment's furnace, and lies down on a blanket in front of it. As the fumes overtake her, she recalls how she first met Freddie and their ensuing affair. She stares at him with what can only be described as awe. The camera spins around the sensual entwining of their naked bodies—a quick lick of his shoulder blade signifies a sort of marking of Hester's territory—and the scene fades into her lying in wait for death on the floor.

If the general outline of the story sounds melodramatic, it is and proudly, unapologetically so. Writer/director Terence Davies (adapting the 1952 play by Terence Rattigan) takes the scenario for what it is and plays it—along with the Samuel Barber violin concerto that serves as the film's score—at the appropriate, amplified level. Characters speak in the heightened language of those who, for the sake of expounding characterization within the confines of a limited setting, must do so. The actors lend a natural air to even the most expository dialogue, with Weisz infusing Hester with such wordless agony that she holds sway over the material even when just staring into space—cigarette in hand and the weight of so much misery within her.

Davies structures the narrative as a series of flashbacks within the central through line of Hester dealing with the aftereffects of her suicide attempt. It is no mere gimmick but instead the revealing of the mindset of a woman who is attempting to process why she came to the point where death seemed the only escape. Within the collection of those sequences, too, is a sense of uncertainty about the characters' motives (Florian Hoffmeister's gorgeous soft-focus cinematography echoes that sentiment), while the main storyline keeps a clear focus on their goals.

Freddie is the greatest enigma in the film. Hester is convinced he has never loved her, although he insists he does. He seems heartless (A short time after he learns she tried to kill herself, he tosses her a coin for the gas, "in case I'm late for supper"), but at a key moment when he seems impatient to leave Hester's apartment and the woman herself, he stays longer than he needs to. Hester's aim is never in doubt; she simply wants to be with Freddie "for a while longer." That "while" could, in theory, never arrive, given that she believes the man is the "whole of life" and death. Even William, who starts the irate cuckold, has unexpected depth and kindness (unless it is a show and even he does not realize that his initial plan of coming to "gloat" is true).

Meanwhile, in the background, is the apartment's landlady (Ann Mitchell), whose husband (Nicolas Amer) is bedridden. If The Deep Blue Sea engrosses in its ability to maintain a certain mystique about its characters, then their story, a brief scene in which she explains to Hester what real love actually looks like, turns the entire film on its head. As devastating as poor Hester's life might be, it is, after all, only a bit of old-fashioned melodrama.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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