45 Years is a tale of broken hearts. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are planning to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary when a letter arrives that sets off tremors in both of them.
Kate and Geoff have settled into their long relationship in comfortable ways. They couldn’t celebrate their 40th anniversary because Geoff had a heart bypass at the time, so they’re making up for it now with a big party.
A letter from Switzerland to Geoff about the discovery of the body of his first love Katya upsets their bucolic existence. Geoff had mentioned Katya to Kate many years ago, but he neglected to tell her the whole truth. He told her they’d been hiking in Switzerland when Katya fell in a fissure in a glacier. He left out so much more than he revealed.
Now that her body preserved at a perfect 26 has been found in the ice, Geoff is thrown off kilter. He mourns for her all over again. He sneaks out of bed in the middle of the night to look at old photos of her he stashed in the attic. He talks to a travel agent about flying to Switzerland.
Kate notices how animated Geoff becomes when he talks about Katya. She senses that perhaps her marriage wasn’t what she thought it was. Perhaps the dark haired Kate was a mere substitute for the dark haired Katya. Geoff even admits he would have married Katya if he could have.
As the anniversary party grows closer, Kate and Geoff feel further and further apart. The camera, with direction by Andrew Haigh, emphasizes this distance by focusing on Kate. It’s her story. In scenes where Kate and Geoff talk, the camera only sees Kate’s face and the back of Geoff’s head. Or Geoff is completely off camera in the attic. Or Geoff is in the frame but out of focus, while the focus on Kate is sharp.
Charlotte Rampling shows Kate’s journey with perfect clarity. The first little tingle of jealousy, the hurt, the crushing truth. Her Best Actress nomination for this role was deserved.
At first I wasn’t feeling very sorry for Kate in 45 Years. I thought she should stop obsessing over ancient history and appreciate what she had. But when Kate climbed into the attic and looked at slides Geoff had taken of Katya, it all changed for me. Kate and Geoff had no children. Instead they’d loved a series of dogs. What Kate saw on the dusty sheet used as a projection screen in the attic – and the way Charlotte Rampling reacted to it – was a pivotal moment for me.
When this film first came out, much was made of the sex scene. I’ve mentioned many times that I’m all for showing older folks having sex. But this scene was one of dysfunction and incompleteness, as full of estrangement as the rest of the film.
There were many symbols of passing time, of growing older and decrepit. Clocks, watches, tolling bells. Which is fine, I suppose, in a film about an older couple. But the film for me wasn’t so much about them being older as it was about all those years they’d lived together and not known the most essential facts about their marriage. At least Kate hadn’t. It was about lost time.
The only other person in the film with many significant lines was Geraldine James as Kate’s friend Lena. Geraldine James needs to be in leading roles, not supporting roles.
45 Years, released in 2015, recently appeared on Amazon Video and Netflix. The story isn’t an upbeat one, but the performances are worth your time (see what I did there?)
Have you seen 45 Years? What did you think of it?