Blog Directory CineVerse: "I want to remember every minute, always, always to the end of my days.”

"I want to remember every minute, always, always to the end of my days.”

Thursday, January 9, 2020

How do we love "Brief Encounter"? Let us count the ways based on our exploration last night at CineVerse, when we took a train ride deep into the heart of frustrated passion with Laura and Alec, the covert lovers at the heart of this film, and celebrated the picture's diamond anniversary.

Why is this movie worth celebrating all these years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • It matters because it’s extremely well crafted by two master storytellers – director David Lean and playwright Noel Coward. This was the movie that put Lean on the map as one of the world’s foremost directors and is an early career example of one of his non-epics.
  • Many call this the British “Casablanca”; indeed, both films feature couples who, due to a marital commitment, do not end up together yet love one another.
  • It also still matters because it shows how, with good writing and deft direction, one can depict a cinematic love affair without obligatory sex. This was solidly in the era of strong censorship; therefore, the filmmakers had to be creative and how they presented this relationship to viewers.
  • It helps that it also features a timeless classical piece – Rachmaninoff’s moody Piano Concerto No 2 – as its score. This hauntingly beautiful music aids in making Brief Encounter unforgettable.

In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?

  • According to Turner Classic Movies, this film was important to the British film industry. “Made on a small scale and without stars, it pointed the way for filmmakers wanting to try new things by showing just how successful a seemingly noncommercial property could be.” The movie was also one of numerous postwar hits that helped demonstrate British movies as financially sustainable in American markets – along with “Blithe Spirit,” “Henry V,” and “The Seventh Veil.”
  • The picture is said to have inspired Billy Wilder to make “The Apartment.”
  • Like Casablanca, Brief Encounter has been countlessly parodied and spoofed – demonstrating its lasting popularity and relevance.
  • This was also the fourth and concluding partnership between Lean and playwright Noel Coward; their previous films were “In Which We Serve,” “This Happy Breed,” and “Blithe Spirit.”
  • Films and stories that may have been inspired by Brief Encounter include “Roman Holiday,” “Before Sunrise,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” “In the Mood For Love,” “Lost in Translation,” and “In the City of Sylvia.”

What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in “Brief Encounter”?

  • Moral obligation and duty. Laura feels guilty for sneaking around and potentially violating her marital oath of fidelity. Consider when this film was released: This was immediate postwar Britain, when many military members would have been returning home to the females they expected to be faithful and waiting.
  • The risks and rewards of temptation in a class-focused society where improprieties are frowned upon and women have very few options once they’ve committed to marriage.
  • Unfulfilled and unconsummated desire and the frustration that follows.
  • The random and happenchance nature of life.
  • Time waits for no one. Throughout the film, the lovers are constantly battling the clock and trying to meet train schedules and keep appointments made. They never seem to have enough time to fully enjoy each other.

What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?

  • Obviously, society has changed dramatically – not only in the United Kingdom but here in the United States. Today, having an affair that involves sex and which may possibly end in divorce is not considered as serious a moral quandary or irredeemable act. Women feel much freer to explore their secret desires and less bound to sociocultural conventions and expectations.
  • Also, the heavily emotional piano music can play today as over the top, melodramatic, and overtly manipulative.
  • The fact that the couple barely kiss and never engage in sexual activity can seem laughably dated to some modern audiences.
  • On the other hand, the tension and frustration felt by Laura – whose point of view the story is told from – still feels palpable if you put the tale in context. Consider that this character is a married middle-class mother whose husband is sweet and trusting and it’s easier to see how conflicted she would be about cheating while also how frustrated she would be with her decision to not physically consummate the affair.

What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • The fact that it’s told from a woman’s point of view –  Laura's point of view: a female who has a lot to lose and with whom even male viewers can identify to some extent. On its surface, it looks like a classic chick flick but it arguably appeals to and can be appreciated by male viewers, too.
  • This movie doesn’t attempt to judge or endorse its characters’ actions and choices. We are left to decide on our own what the right thing to do is and if the characters live up to our expectations.
  • This film boils down temptation and attraction to its simplest essentials, without the need to show torrid sexuality, introduce extraneous characters or subplots, or deviate from one character’s point of view. It’s pure, simple, and clean cinematic storytelling.
  • Blogger Carl Wilson wrote: “Brief Encounter is an examination of the social and moral repercussions of falling in love with the wrong ‘right person’. It shows us a paradox of frustration through which romance is a briefly glorious struggle and fulfillment is only fleeting entirely because of belief systems held by other people. While the film is created for the viewing pleasures of the audience, it also endeavors to show us something about our own lives.”
To hear a recording of our CineVerse group discussion of this film, click here.

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