on 22 May 2005
Having never read Ian McEwan's original novel from which this film is based, I can't rightly judge whether or not this was a successful adaptation. However, I can say that as a standalone work, Enduring Love is one of the more interesting films to be released within the last couple of years and, as a successful British film, is one to rank alongside other recent UK successes like Dead Man's Shoes and Vera Drake. Having watched the film a couple of times, I was left with the urge to go away and discover McEwan's original novel (as was the case when I saw the film adaptation of his other key-work, The Cement Garden), as the film, although highly interesting and emotionally engaging, certainly left me asking a lot of questions.
The opening scene really sets the mood and pace (and of course, the plot) for the rest of the film... not to mention standing as one of the most exciting, engaging and downright jaw-dropping moments of visceral, cinematic tension-building that I've seen in a long time. Here, director Roger Michell juxtaposes the lush greenery of the Oxfordshire countryside - with it's rolling hills and vast, ocean-like sky - with a billowing, blood red, hot-air-balloon, waving as dangerously as the frantic, hand-held cameras that capture the action. The editing is punchy and creates a rhythm that works towards heightening the confusion felt by the characters, as the quiet, countryside picnic of writer/professor Joe and his sculptress girlfriend Claire is disrupted by the sight of the balloon, and the appalling tragedy to come. As the story progresses, the couple try to put the event to the back of their minds and carry on as normal with their comfortable, bourgeois lives of luncheons, dinner-parties & work-related accolades, however, when another one of the witnesses to the event contacts Joe out of the blue, we see the beginnings of a bizarre and dangerous relationship that will push all three protagonists beyond the regular boundaries of reasonability.
Some have likened the film to something like Fatal Attraction, with the idea of obsession and guilt both featuring as central to both... however, for me, Enduring Love was much more of a treatise on the nature of love, and the whys and wherefores of such. For example, it is important to note that Joe is a professor who studies the nature of love, and the human qualities one would require to endure love, when, in reality, it is the unhinged and unwanted fellow witness Jed that really understands the true sense of blind obsession, so central to such feelings.
The style of the film manages to be both low-key and visually distinctive, with Michell employing a style similar to his previous film, The Mother, with hand-held cameras that offer a reality - but also, manage to convey the wavering uncertainty and voyeuristic intrusion so central to the plot - coupled with staccato editing, optical filters, rich composition and an extraordinary use of locations (all captured in glorious 2:35.1 widescreen). The performances are of an extremely high calibre as well, with Daniel Craig bringing a smug-pomposity, but also a vulnerability to his role of the logical professor pushed to an illogical limit, whilst Samantha Morton offers support as the bewildered Claire, who has to question Joe's mental stability as he begins obsessing about the accident and his newly acquired "friend". However, much more impressive, if only for the fact that he delivers a performance completely against every other role I've ever seen him attempt, is Rhys Ifans, who embodies the lonely and perhaps somewhat disturbed Jed with a quiet, contemplative spirit that goes against the kind of melodramatic, raving lunatics found in similar, Hollywood endeavours.
The interplay between the three characters is wonderfully handled by Michell, who paces the film deliberately, so that the relationships only becomes truly apparent over a gradual period of time. Now, this may infuriate some viewers who expect a much quicker film that gets straight to the point, but I for one admired the gradual build and felt that it made the relationship between Joe and Jed much more metaphysical (bringing up all kinds of questions about fragmented personalities, two-halves of the same soul, repressed guilt, angst, sexual frustration and schizophrenia), whilst also forcing us to question who is really insane? This is just one question that the film left me with as the credits began to roll, with Michell and screenwriter Joe Penhall leaving a lot of minor-details unresolved, thus, allowing the audience to fill in the blanks. Again, this may annoy some viewers... and I must admit, I myself was left scratching my head on a number of occasions (not least, the scene that takes place after the final credits), but having gone back and watched the film a second time you realise that so much of the emotional background and the character motivation is there in those great performances.
It's certainly a film that will leave you with something to think about, if not only the relationship between the characters, then certainly the rationality of them leading up to that tense, edge-of-the-seat final. For me, Enduring Love was a great film that kept me interested throughout and left me with a lot of questions that have been running through my mind over the last couple of weeks. I appreciate the fact that a lot of viewers seek some kind of emotional resolution from a film, but I feel that people who don't necessarily expect every single loose end to be neatly tucked away by the end credits - or those that enjoy thinking about both the characters and the story once the film has come to a close - will certainly enjoy and appreciate this.