45 Years is remarkably boring”

by Steve Pulaski

Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years revolves around Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay), a retired Norfolk couple looking to celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary at the Assembly House in Norwich. Their plans to have a large gathering for their fortieth anniversary were hindered when Geoff underwent serious heart-bypass surgery, but now the two are planning the best event they never got to have.

However, a week before the party, Geoff receives the news saying the body of Katya, his lover and former fiancee from more then five decades ago, has been recovered after she fell into a crevasse while the two were on a hike through a snowy, mountainous region in Switzerland. Kate was well aware about her husband’s relationship with Katya, and though she claims it doesn’t bother her, it’s difficult to overlook a former lover who was such an instrumental part of your spouse’s life, regardless of whether or not it was five months or five decades in the past.

As one can imagine, memories, sweet nothings, and past choices flood the mind of Geoff as he contemplates his next moves, most of which involve setting up his wedding anniversary and others involve the possibility of flying out to Switzerland to see her body and properly bury it. Overtime, an initially unfazed Kate becomes more and more troubled by her husband’s past relationship, especially as more and more damaging facts about their courtship come to light. The two take up the old habits, such as smoking and growing perpetually more distant as their celebration of unity nears.

45 Years is a film that revolves around the return of the unwanted visitor known as “the past,” who is so disruptive and burdensome that it can effectively destroy what’s occurring in the present and cripple or damage the near, and even long-term, future. Choosing to focus on a retired married couple is a wise choice because usually we see the unwanted visitor plague a relationship as it’s entering marriage or even more serious commitment. The end result is usually a love triangle fit for an incredulous romance movie rather than a serious adult drama.

45 Years
Directed by
Andrew Haigh
Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James
Release Date
23 December 2015
Steve’s Grade: D+

Being that the film features the spacious, scenic countryside of Norfolk and some very beautiful camerawork by a usually impressive Haigh and cinematographer Lol Crawley, it’s all the more unfortunate that 45 Years is such a disappointment. It’s a film that’s more interesting to discuss in terms of its limitless possibilities and the psychological effects the events have on the film’s characters than it is to actually sit down and watch. Almost entirely derailed by two very subdued and wooden performances by its leading actors, the film’s attempt to tell a serious story through quiet, meditative restraint results in an anticlimactic affair. The film’s problems are the same ones that plagued last year’s drama “Carol” from being a truly effective film, largely because the focus, rather than being placed on character conversation and human interest, was centered on lingering facial expressions and perfectly timed music.

While 45 Years isn’t as unsubtle, it’s still just about as uninvolving. Some may call the performances by Courtenay and Rampling, who was a Best Actress longshot for the Oscars but miraculously earned the nomination, methodical, but I call them empty and unfortunately lax. To begin with, the characters they are playing lack any kind of chemistry with one another, making it very difficult to believe they’ve been married for nearly half a century, and neither one shows any emotion outside of indifference and passive-aggressive anger. These are not characters; they are empty vessels that move and speak with the precision of robots.

This is a shame, seeing as Haigh’s last film Weekend was a seriously compelling, character-centered film on two gay men that meet and get to know one another over the course of a weekend before parting ways and going off on their own paths. Even though these men were strangers at the start, their comfort levels with one another were the focus throughout the entire film, and Haigh delightfully profiled how some people we meet simply earn our trust instantly and what starts as a basic connection transcends into a wonderful, if brief, relationship. This is all the more strange considering how 45 Years, a film about monogamy and long-term marriage, feels much colder and detached than a film about what was basically an extended fling.

For a film about the potential corruption of a marriage thanks to the intrusive, unwanted guest of the past, 45 Years is remarkably boring, and it’s anchored by two mediocre lead performances that fail to transcend their thin characters and spark any kind of chemistry whatsoever. Haigh accesses these characters from a fairly easy narrative entry-point – zeroing in on their issues during a time of would-be self-reflection and happiness amongst two people who are in love – and squanders any opportunity for human interest in the process by making this story so quiet and unmoving it might as well be a silent film about an important public speaker.