“I think it needs a new ballcock”. If there is a film that can survive giving space to this deathless line – 45 Years isn’t it. In one if their periodic moments of collective lunacy, UK critics have unanimously awarded 5 stars to this insufferably patronising, depressing study in tedium which exploits every stereotypical view of older people in the book.
The saving grace of Charlotte Rampling’s Herculean failure to make something of the ill-conceived and badly written part of Kate, is its triumph of instinct over technique. Rampling’s natural authority, intelligence and strength of personality refuses to be buried by the intentionally pathetic, wimpy, wishy washy woman that writer/Director Andrew Haig has conceived and written. This is Alan Bennett country: devoid of his insight or wit. Witless pretty much captures the essence of this twaddle.
Courtney struggles manfully, but he can’t breathe any life into the wet, emotionally stunted twerp that is Geoff; obsessing throughout 45 years of marriage to a real, intelligent, passionate woman; over a youthful lover he hardly knew whose eternal appeal rests on having fallen to her death up a very big Swiss mountain and down a very deep hole, watched by an inept but hunky Swiss guide of whom gormless Geoff was, and remains, passively jealous. Oops. Strewth.
Oh Charlotte; Oh Tom; didn’t you read this meretricious pap? Both of you are as competent and assured in your art as you have ever been; still vital and powerfully expressive: whatever possessed you to try to breathe life into two such cardboard characters? It’s not that Geoff and Kate are horrible: it is that they are so insufferably nice: sans passion, sans willpower, sans balls! And is it really beyond the artistic creativity and invention of excellent actors and a serious Director to portray the sexual expression of love between a couple who have been together for 45 years and know each other’s bodies and needs literally intimately, with more positive conviction than the excruciatingly embarrassing, apologetic sequence we have to endure, squirming in our seats, in this film?
Geoff and Kate have ‘enjured’ – neither wholly enjoyed nor fully endured – a childless 45 year liaison; (one hesitates to say marriage as they talk to each other like they’re a scratch partnership at Bridge); aided of course by the de rigeur doggie surrogate. Surrounded by a group of teeth-grindingly Middle Class friends you wouldn’t wish on your own worst enemy, they parse out their personal and social lives in a Norfolk rural idyll to die in, not for.
With all the spontaneous enthusiasm of lambs strolling down to the abattoir; Geoff and Kate meekly bow to the inexorable pressure of bourgeois convention by marking, hardly celebrating, their long-service marriage medals with a party neither wants; highlighted by a speech from Geoff of such stupefying crassness that one prays for divine (feminine) retribution. And this moment, dear reader is the whole rationale for this manipulative confection: the closing shot of Kate, long-suffering and redolent with pathos. Critics seem to have bought into this without question. Sorry folks but I’m far more inclined to kick Ms Rampling, as Kate, up her still very sexy bum and say “C’mon Katie get a grip and a life – you’re not dead yet.’
The philosophical subtext of Haig’s film is that both Geoff and Kate are victims, because of their age; and Kate doubly so, because she is a woman. Give me strength: how does the critical community swallow this bullsh*t so wholeheartedly?
Why am I so hostile? Our culture has long ‘buried’ death in euphemisms to avoid dealing with the one great certainty of existence. But at least the dead are beyond harm. What Mr Haig and Co are doing is to try to entomb the Chronologically Gifted before they’re even dead. The generation who fought and won a World War against naked evil and many brutal conflicts since; have confronted more personal, social revolutionary change than any human beings in history; have created and disseminated a renaissance in music and drama, in film-making and Art; are now portrayed as Bingo-fodder, beings to pity, patronize and ‘pathosogize’. It is a miracle that Mr Haig eschewed the stock character of almost every modern narrative about people of honourable age – the Alzheimer sufferer. Of course human beings are more prone to illness and ill-health the older they get: but disease and sickness are a tragedies of the human condition as such; not of age.
I am reminded of the appalling film Hilary and Jackie (1998) which spent most of its dreadful 2 hours ignoring the breath-taking, inspirational artistry of a sublime musician (Jacqueline Du Pre) to obsess about whether she did or didn’t sleep with her brother-in-law.
Our culture, across the Arts: Drama, Film, Television etc; de facto promotes an ethos obsessed with the idea that either the only, or the most important aspects of the lives of those with a few decades of living, of experience, of achievement, behind them; are their ailments, disappointments and loss of will, potency and relevance.
The prevailing zeitgeist of ‘age’ dominating our contemporary artistic culture is as victimhood: physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual. It is tempting to believe that an unconscious fear drives this widespread conviction – that of today’s young of becoming old. The hard-earned life-wisdom of an older generation commonly denied, dismissed and frequently mocked; has no authoritative artistic ‘voice’. This systematic, prejudiced, distortion of the truth surpasses even the justifiable complaints of feminists of similar injustice in the treatment of women. Women in effect suffer a double whammy – for they are half of the patronized older citizens as well.
Age is a number: ‘Old’ is an attitude. Youth isn’t a quality or an achievement: it is a ‘gift’. We deserve no credit for our gifts: only what we make of them. In that sense Age is perhaps one of the greatest gifts of all and likewise therefore – judge those with most of their journey behind them not on where they’ve been with the gift of youth; but where they’re going with the gift of Age.
I’ll leave the last word with a great Italian Film Director (Antonioni I believe) who, when in his 80’s was asked how old he was, replied (in wonderfully expressive Italian of course):
“I have my heart, my mind and my balls – who cares how old I am?”