Welcome to this month's edition of Movies with Brian!:
Well, Valentine’s Day is approaching and nothing says romance like a movie about cheating spouses. This may not be one to cuddle up to with your spouse, but Brief Encounter is wonderful moral dilemma that takes us to the brink of infidelity in the most proper of societies – 1940’s Britain.
Brief Encounter is written by Noel Coward and directed by David Lean. The film itself revolves around a romance developed between an English housewife (Laura, played by Ceila Johnson) and an MD (Dr. Alec Harvey, played by Trevor Howard). Their chance (or brief if you will) meeting takes place at the railway station when a speck of dust is lodged in Laura’s eye and Dr. Harvey – who happens to be walking by – offers his professional assistance. This initial meeting really is quite a bit of nothing, there are no immediate sparks. There next meeting, however, takes place at a restaurant in which Laura offers the empty seat at her table out of politeness – the restaurant being filled to capacity – but they end up hitting it off and catching a movie.
The movie is filled with less than subtle insinuations with an extended preview for next week’s show: Flames of Passion. Without giving away any spoilers things heat up quickly, lies are told, guilt and shame persist for both Laura and Alec.
An interesting factor is the focus on Laura and the effects on her home life rather than Alec. It is not demonizing, but rather compassionate towards her situation – she loves her husband who provides a stable home, but her passion is ignited when with Alec. You see her struggle to maintain her composure, to do the respectable thing; but her desire – like so many of ours – says: Just a little, but nothing beyond that…. And that line of thinking goes as it usually does – further down the path. The more pivotal moments in which a decision to step further are made are beautifully shot, if you watch pay attention to Lean’s use of shadow. I think of the first kiss they share, at the train station between platforms, and how the passing train suddenly casts their faces in darkness – these moments are placed throughout, visually cueing us to the moral conundrum.
The film is filled with moments of cinematic bliss. The opening credits, with the long shot of the train departing, the steam from the engine rising and covering the ground, the noise of it all; and then the camera shifts, subtly, to capture the incoming train as if we were passengers being carried in and dropped off in the middle of this story. There is, almost, a perfect blend of movements that build into crescendo, and seem to bring us back down and ease us in to the reality that this passionate affair is over, that life will continue as it was.
This movie, if you have not seen it, belongs on your bucket list. If you are brave pre-order the criterion release coming in April, it will be loaded with extras.