Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

I suggest this review only for those who have already seen the movie. No exception!

   I was expecting for this to be the usual romantic melodramatic fare. I was, however, attracted to the plot and gave it a chance. It does follow the same formulas of the romantic melodrama genre, but somehow it is elevated above the limitations of the genre to deliver a truly earnest story about two souls adrift and their attempts to re-connect with the world around them.

  The opening shots of the film are of incoming and outgoing trains at a railway station. Truly beautiful stuff. We are then led to a cafe in the railway station where a ticket collector, Albert, is shamelessly flirting with the nonplussed cafe owner, Myrtle. This recurs several more times throughout the film. While this sub-plot (though originally the film cleverly presents it as the main plot) does not really serve much of a purpose to advance the main storyline, I find that it still very much fits the film's atmosphere. Anyways, a customer walks in and familiarizes herself with a couple sitting at a table in the cafe. The new customer, Dolly, is an acquaintance of the female half of the couple, named Laura. Dolly immediately orders the man, named Alec, to get her some coffee. He does so, and Laura presents him as somebody she's just met briefly at the cafe. Alec announces that he is a doctor and will soon be relocating to Africa. Alec's train arrives and he leaves, bidding the two women farewell and lightly touching Laura's shoulder in his departure. Now, keep this scene in my mind because it's an integral part of the story and serves as a framing device.
   Dolly continues to chatter, while Laura runs out of the cafe only to return complaining of feeling faint. Laura arrives home to her husband Fred and her two children. She complains of feeling blue. The husband and wife go into the study room where Laura breaks down in tears. She brushes her outburst off as a result of her persisting fainting spells. After being consoled by Fred, she watches him and begins to drift off into her memories; the main storyline of the film is then narrated by Laura telling Fred about the nature of her relationship with Alec, though in her thoughts.
Four weeks before, during one of her usual Thursday runs into town, , Laura met Alec at the station cafe, when he helped her remove something from her eye. They meet about town a few days later by coincidence, then again in the cafe. They begin to see each other regularly and soon begin to develop feelings for each other. They go out to movies, to botanic gardens and on boat rides together. They confess their love for each other, but their relationship is ultimately doomed from the outset.
  Laura seems to be the most guilt-ridden of the pair, especially after her son is hit by a car. She blames her behavior as the reason for such misfortune. Nonetheless, the two secretly continue to meet up, sneaking kisses here and there. They come close to being caught on two separate occasions (once by an acquaintance of Laura at a restaurant and the next in the apartment of one of Alec's colleagues). The two become increasingly frustrated by life's constant interruptions of their affair.When Alec is offered a job in Africa, he informs Laura of his decision to take it because he is sorry for having caused her so much distress and knows that it is impossible for them to ever be truly happy with each other. They agree that this is the beginning of the end and go on one last outing prior to Alec leaving. They visit some of the same places they went to during their short romance, culminating in their tete-a-tete at the railway cafe.
    We come back to the very first scene where Dolly interrupted their conversation. The lovebirds are denied a proper goodbye. Alec can only squeeze Laura's shoulder before leaving. While Dolly continues to chatter, Laura holds hope that Alec will turn around and come back. However, her hope is shattered when she hears his train depart. She then hears another train arriving and runs outside the cafe. She comes close to Anna Karenina-ing herself up outta there, but stops herself. We are now back in the study where in her head she is confessing her affair to her husband Fred. Recognizing how distant his wife has been over the past few weeks, he kneels at her feet and tells her he is glad to have her back.
    While the film's ending reads like an attempt to create a happy ending for the story, I actually love the conclusion. Fred is really a nice guy and a good husband, however dull. I am glad that Laura chooses to remain with him. I think the novelty of her relationship with Alec would have worn off pretty soon. At the time, I did feel sad at his departure, and it is only afterwards that I am able to realize how wrong he was for Laura. I'm quite sure in due time Laura will reach that same epiphany and realize how much love cloaked her mind. Love is indeed blind. After all, the affair is told through the eyes of Laura. She sees Alec as being in a compromising position much like her, but there are undercurrents of Alec not being what he appears to be. Alec is very forward and pretty much encourages Laura into the affair. He invites her to his friend's flat, barely avoiding possible humiliation when the friend suddenly returns. He takes her out to a restaurant in plain public view. Also, when the two describe their spouses to each other, Laura does seem fond of her husband (though a bit resigned), while Alec does not seem to care much for his wife. It is Alec who first suggests they go out to a movie together. Laura originally balked at that idea. Who knows whether Alec has done something like that before? To me, he came across as too at-ease in their affair. It is important to note though  that I did not reach such conclusions until after the movie was over. Much like Laura, I was under the spell of her and Alec's relationship. I'm still fond of Alec's character, despite my doubting his sincerity.
    The cinematography for the film is major! I was sold by the opening scene with the plumes of smoke from the trains wafting down near the railway platforms. It's mostly set in the train station/cafe, but other exterior locations (such as the couple's boat outing) are well used. The setting really helped transfuse the film with a befitting sense of melancholy. The actors are also great in their roles, making their characters feel real. Celia Johnson, who played Laura, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for this film.
    I loved this film way more than I expected and, after the last film I reviewed, Brief Encounter was a more than welcome addition to my encyclopedia of watched films.

Ludovico Rating:

4/5. I would definitely watch this film again. 


  1. One of my all time favorite films. Not only that, I think it is one of David Lean's best films as well. Lean was a master at making films about love affairs. Typically I am inclined to feel sorry for the unknowing spouse but not in a Lean film. His characters have too much heart ans soul. Its a truly brilliant film. Thanks for the write up.

    1. No, thank you for commenting. I'm excited to check out more David Lean since this was my first.