By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Photo by Nicola Dove
Enduring Love,a thrilling film based on the fascinatingly uneven novel of the same name by British writer Ian McEwan, is a horror movie covering for a worried meditation on the fragility of the modern couple. One way or another, breakable partnerships tremble at the heart of almost every tale of urban horror that McEwan, a Booker Prize winner and darling of critics up and down the literary scale, has spun. McEwan is a curious anomaly in the realm of the domestic novel. He writes in the clean, descriptive prose of a master realist, yet his couples are threatened less by the made-for-TV-movie sociology that trips off pundits’ tongues — the untethering of love and marriage from family and community, serial marriage, commitment phobia, the increase in childless unions, the gauntlet thrown down by feminism to traditional divisions of marital labor — than by some terrifying external event, more often than not the intrusion of an unhinged third party who draws out the weaknesses in the most orderly domestic arrangements.
This is undoubtedly why so many of McEwan’s books become movies, and though he may have a Hollywood pitch in mind when he writes, it may also be that he’s a genuinely kinky bastard. I admire McEwan’s work, but I have mixed feelings about his inner horrormeister, which seems to me to reflect, on the one hand, a literary hipster’s unease with pure realism (a form at which he excels) and, on the other, a kind of evasive emotional distancing from his characters and the everyday messes we all routinely get into. Who needs horror, though, when the infinite variety of marital wreckage all around us is drama enough? In Paul Schrader’s overwrought 1991 movie based on McEwan’s overwrought novel The Comfort of Strangers, Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson play a vacationing couple whose encounter with a creepy stranger, played by Christopher Walken, exposes the fault lines in their troubled marriage — with ritual murder for dessert. For my taste both the novel and the film were breathy and pretentious, not to mention improbable. McEwan’s finest novel by far, The Child in Time, about a couple whose marriage is all but destroyed by the theft of their child from a supermarket, has never been adapted for the big screen — it lacks his trademark blood and guts, and may be too close to something that could actually happen. Enduring Love, too, rests on a plausible premise — relationship unraveled by a stalker — but its British director, Roger Michell, strikes an assured balance between intense mood piece and Gothic chiller.
The movie opens with a stunning juxtaposition of bucolic pleasure and pure dread, accomplished in eerie silence. Joe and Claire, an attractive young couple picnicking in a sunlit field of emerald-green grass, uncork a bottle of champagne. Joe is launching into a speech, possibly a marriage proposal, when suddenly a dark shadow falls over them, followed by a huge, blood-red hot-air balloon bouncing in the field, apparently out of control, with a panicked boy in its basket and an older man fighting to keep the huge contraption grounded. Along with several other bystanders who rush to help, Joe grabs one of several ropes that dangle from the basket. Together they all rise higher and higher into the air, then, still in silence but as if by mutual agreement, they let go one by one and drop to the ground, except for one older man, who clings to the rope for what seems an eternity until at last he, too, falls to earth, arms flailing. Minutes later his body is found by Joe and a rumpled young man named Jed, who implores a visibly discomfited Joe to get down on his knees and pray with him. In the weeks that follow this trauma, both the stranger and the memory of that body, sitting upright but collapsed into itself at an unnerving angle, will reduce Joe’s and Claire’s lives to rubble.
An odd duck on the movie map, Michell has shown himself equally adept at crass commercialism (the unspeakably manipulative Notting Hill, and Changing Lanes) and the intelligently literary (Persuasion, one of the very best Jane Austen interpretations). Enduring Love tilts toward the latter, but Michell also deploys the Hollywood hack in him to splendid advantage, punching up the thriller quotient and scattering reminders of that red balloon everywhere in Joe’s orbit. Broadly faithful to the spirit of McEwan’s novel, he has also sexed it up by making its protagonists far hipper than those in the novel. Thus Joe, an ungainly, balding science writer in the novel, is retooled in the movie as some sort of professor (I couldn’t figure out of what, since his unusually lucky students spend their time listening to him riff endlessly on love and sex), played by the hunky Daniel Craig (Sylvia’s Ted Hughes). Claire, a professor of English literature in the novel, is now an acclaimed sculptor, well played by Samantha Morton in what must surely be her first stint as a functioning creature of this planet.
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