The movie “45 Years” tells a story of isolation, uncertainty, self-doubt, and the struggle to find redemption.
After 45 years of marriage Kate (Charlotte Rampling) is becoming newly conscious of a secret she vaguely knew hidden in her husband Geoff’s (Tom Courtenay) distant past.
Kate knew of her husband’s youthful relationship with Catja who died tragically in an accident in the Swiss Alps fifty years ago. But she was certainly unaware that at the time of her death Catja was pregnant. For Kate, who has remained childless, the awareness that her husband had intended to marry his pregnant girlfriend rocks her world, increasing the sense of isolation and loneliness that afflicts all her relationships.
There are no grand romantic moments in this film. There is just a realistic portrayal of the struggle and, at times, inadequacy of even the most intimate human relationship. Kate and Geoff have lived together in relative peace throughout their long married life. But, there have been struggles along the way.
Near the end of the film in his speech at their anniversary celebration, Geoff strives to articulate his awareness of the imperfections of his married life. In a halting, almost embarrassed voice he says,
Now, things… things haven’t always been, er… idyllic.
Er, like all couples, we’ve had our downs as, er… as well as our ups.
We all, we all, er, think…
W-We all wish we’d done some things, er, differently,
wish we hadn’t made certain mistakes,
but, er… whatever.
Geoff’s failing health and Kate’s new awareness of her husband’s tragic past, have brought to the surface the hidden fissures in their relationship. They are conscious of the compromises they have made as a couple. They are assaulted by dissatisfaction and disconnection. They are freshly aware of the ways they have not fully fulfilled the dream of marital bliss with which they began their married life so many years ago.
So, what is to be done, when the failures and inadequacies in our relationships break upon us with new force?
At the most difficult point in Geoff and Kate’s attempt to navigate Kate’s dawning awareness of her husband’s painful secret, Kate pulls herself together, puts her pain aside and, in spite of her suffering, returns to the practical realities of life asking Geoff,
Have you taken your pills today?
Kate goes on,
Then I’m going to get them.
And then we’re going to have dinner,
and then we’re going to go to bed.
And then we’re going to get up.
And we’ll try and start again.
OK, Kate, I can do that.
We can do that.
The next morning, Geoff appears and serves Kate tea in bed promising to make scrambled eggs. He announces that he has fixed the toilet and asks to accompany Kate as she walks the dog. Up to this point in the film, Kate’s dog-walking has all been done in splendid isolation observed by the viewer from a distance as she walked on lonely barren landscapes shrouded in mist.
This loneliness lurks at the edges of every human relationship. They are all touched the jagged edges, difficult memories, and painful spots to which our frailty as human beings inevitably give rise. There is no human relationship that is not hemmed around by the difficult reality of brokenness and an aching ill-defined sense of lack.
We lack the skills for flawless perfect relationships.
Long intimacy is only achieved by the determination to get up over and over to “start again”. Intimacy is achieved by the daily discipline of bringing the tea in the morning, walking the dog together, fixing the toilet, struggling to be honest, and sharing those inevitably painful moments that are scattered across the landscape of every honest human relationship. This is the work that sustains a relationship for “45 Years.”
There are no easy intimacies. At times we all remain frozen in isolation. Trapped inside the awkward confines of our resistance to the uneasy practice of vulnerability, we find ourselves caught in the doubt and confusion of being imperfectly human. We move ahead only when we remain grounded in our intention to stumble forward together, to bear the inevitable pain of reality, and to allow our hearts to break open over and over to the mysterious gift of a love that is stronger than all we may fear.
There is no easy Hollywood resolution at the end of “45 Years.” Kate and Geoff seem to seem to have reached a place of reconciliation and healing. But, as the movie ends, it is clear the road ahead remains uncertain and challenging, as indeed it is in all true human relationships.