I’ve just seen Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea (not to be confused with the unfortunate shark thriller of almost the same name, with the “the” in the title making all the difference), and I don’t know which depressed me more, this or Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine.
Both movies tell the story of a dying relationship, and both are painfully dark and quiet, showing us in flashbacks the ecstasy of falling in love, and how all of that somehow led to this day, today, when this relationship makes one last gasp for air and dies. (Is it any coincidence that both movies have ‘blue’ in their titles? CONSPIRACY!)
The Deep Blue Sea gets extra points in my book for using Tom Hiddleston as a romantic lead. (Did you ever notice how the sides of his eyes crease when he smiles?) And not as the typically British charming-and-proper Hugh Grant or Colin Firth type either. He is Freddie, a former war pilot, young, fiery, infatuated with “fear and excitement,” and apparently some sort of sex god–at least in comparison to Hester (Rachel Weisz)’s elderly husband Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), a London judge who is kind, good and wealthy, but not exactly potent.
The movie opens with Hester attempting suicide in the apartment she shares with Freddie. She had left her husband months ago to be with him, and though she does not regret this decision, she has become unhappy.
Freddie awakened the (arguably dormant) sexual being in her. Now she sits at home, smoking, waiting for him. He has gone for the weekend to play golf with friends. He forgets her birthday. The sex is presumably still good, but Freddie is a young man and he is volatile: passionate lovemaking comes with equally passionate disagreements, shouting matches in public places (which she never would have done as the wife of a proper man, but now she practically wears the scarlet letter), and crying and making up, followed by more passionate sex.
Not that he is cruel or mean to her; Freddie is not the villain. She knows this. Few love stories have genuine villains.
A lot of rubbish is talked about love. You know what real love is? It’s wiping someone’s arse or changing the sheets when they’ve wet themselves. And letting them keep their dignity so you can both go on.
Mrs. Elton the landlady lectures Hester thus one evening. Hester understands. She could have had this kind of love with her husband, but she wants it instead with Freddie. She doesn’t want to get to the diapers part without the passion that’s supposed to precede it.
When Hester and Freddie began their affair, it was a “mixture of fear and excitement.” She fell in love with him, and he was not without affection for her. She left her husband, he took her in. And yet the longer they stay together, the more evident it becomes: she is much older than him, not in years but in expectations. Hester wants a life, a home, stability; Freddie wants to drink and make love and move to Rio to fly airplanes. He is her life; she is only part of his.
Now I never gave myself a big buildup, you knew exactly what you were getting… You always said that I don’t really love you in the way you love me, but that’s not my fault. [I] never asked to be loved… I can’t be bloody Romeo all the time.
She inevitably burdens him with her emotional needs; he withdraws; they fight; she pleads, bargains; he stays. It is an emotionally dysfunctional cycle. But she cannot force him to grow up. He is a boyfriend, not a husband.
“I don’t enjoy hurting you,” Freddie tells her quietly, a tear falling across his face. She smiles, understanding, her gaze conveying the tempest of emotions underneath that calm surface. She loves him and wants to believe that things can somehow be worked out. He loves her and leaves: better, perhaps, to break her heart once and with finality, than to stay and do it every single day.