Relationships in themselves are already fragile creatures in need of near-superhuman attention to detail for their continued existence, so depicting one on film is doubly hard. 45 Years manages to explore and flesh out the entirety of their 45 year relationship in the span of 90 minutes. There is a calmness and ease so none of it feels unnatural or rushed, and it is done with wonderful thoughtfulness.
45 Years employs subtle emotional build-up that is just as powerful as any drama. The characters don’t need to resort to hysterics or explosive reactions to get their feelings across. In this, there are no better actors suited than Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, whose filmography is filled with nuanced dramatic performances. Together, they play off of each other, exchanging emotionally charged expressions that wordlessly speak volumes. Even going beyond that, each of their performances make use of what is said as much as what is left unsaid. 45 Years is a study in human expression and understanding, with more meaning coming from the wordless interactions between the two than the dialogue spoken.
The characters aren’t the only form of expression in this film. It is also full of several wide tracking shots that perfectly represent the long and lonely road they each travel individually in their long relationship together. At the eve of their 45th wedding anniversary, like in their relationship, they are just going through the motions in planning a party. 45 Years is a great case study in the dynamic of some older relationships, and how even decades later you can still find out something new about each other. Director Andrew Haigh understands the complexity of relationships with his work on the thought-provoking Weekend and the HBO show Looking. Haigh paints a portrait of a marriage based on complacency and settling for each other. He then introduces an element from the past and watches as it unsettles and threatens the predictability/set routine they were hoping would last for the rest of their lives.
Haigh beautifully crafts the insidious nature of the unexpected news Geoff (Tom Courtenay) receives and his descent into a subtly growing madness as he becomes consumed by the past feelings it brings up. There is a perfect juxtaposition as Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff plan their 45 year anniversary, a ceremony meant to represent the strengthening of their bonds and commitment while events take place that threaten to dismantle their frail partnership altogether.
The true power behind this film is how relatable it feels. Although most of us have never experienced this exact situation, we understand how every moving part works to create doubts. Through that, we invest our own emotions and the characters themselves become our proxies, whether you relate more to Geoff or Kate. The intensity of their looks and ferocity of their inaction raise an anxiety in the viewer that mimics that of the character. From then on, this film transforms from a passive viewing experience to an emotionally invested first person drama. Even if you don’t find satisfaction through the characters’ actions and the film’s final/inevitable resolution, the entire experience of 45 Years will prove to be a fulfilling one.
RATING: ★★★★★★★★★ (9/10 stars)