The End of the Affair–After You See It

                                                                                                                                          3:02 a.m.   9/15/16/05

My mom is gone, which means I get to watch whatever movie I want again.  I have duly reconfigured my queue to reflect my tastes, but I still have three movies at home that I have yet to see.  These are movies that I do want to view, but not necessarily right away.  However, since I have them, I decided to watch them before returning them. 

First up is The End of the Affair.  Now, as far as I remember, I placed this on my queue because it has Jason Isaacs in it.  And Ian Hart.  What I didn’t remember is that it also has the wonderful Stephen Rea in it as well.  Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes round out the exemplary cast.  She’s lovely to look at as well as being a more-than-competent actor while he is brilliant in certain roles.  In addition, there is gorgeous orchestra music with a lush cello and picturesque period scenery.  The movie takes place during World War II—sort of—and it feels authentic.  Then again, as I’ve stated earlier, I know squat about period accuracy, so I’m impressed rather easily in that department. 

This movie should be great.  It’s directed by Neil Jordan who also directed Michael Collins and The Crying Game, among others.  Notice the crossing over of actors in his various movies, and it’s quite amusing.  At any rate, this movie is based on a novel by Graham Greene of the same name.  I have high hopes that it will blow me away.  Great music, great atmosphere, great actors, great director.  It should be a shoo-in as a great movie, but alas, it is not.

My chief complaint is this.  The entire conceit of this movie is that two characters, Julianne Moore as Sarah Miles and Ralph Fiennes as Maurice Bendrix meet and fall instantly in love.  She is married to Henry Miles (Stephen Rea) who is some kind of politician who is emotionally absent.  He’s a typical buttoned-down Englishman who’d rather cut his hand off than show an authentic iota of emotion until it’s too late.  Sarah is supposedly this luminous woman who captivates the hearts of men around her without half-trying.  Maurice is a somewhat-successful novelist who is, in a word, an asshole.

This is the problem, people.  I do not for one minute believe that anyone would fall in love with Maurice, especially not after getting to know him.  He is a self-absorbed, arrogant yet puling jerk who doesn’t give a fig about anyone other than himself.  His ‘love’ for Sarah is obsession and more about him than her.  He is jealous of everything and everyone because he cannot be with Sarah twenty-four/seven.  To top it off, he’s a crashing bore.  There is nothing interesting or sexy about him, and it’s inconceivable that Sarah would fall in love with him.

She doesn’t, though, not really.  It’s clear that it’s more a matter of escaping from her husband than actual falling in love.  It doesn’t matter, though, because Sarah is not a real woman.  She is the concept of what man wants the ideal woman to be.  Sexy, sensual, but ultimately unattainable.  Even if Maurice thinks he’s the aggrieved one—indeed, he accuses her of staying with Henry because she knows the affair will end—he’s  the one who would chafe if he actually had to live with Sarah as man and wife.  It’s clear that he needs to see himself as the pining lover, as that’s what makes him happiest.  I don’t waste my sympathy on Sarah, either, though, as she is self-absorbed as well.

This movie is set during World War II, sort of, but the war has the decency only to provide a backdrop for the main story—the supposedly sweeping love story of Sarah and Maurice.  They only meet during the bombings, and they only meet to fuck like rabbits, apparently.  This is another reason I don’t believe it’s love.  I never see them do anything other than having sex—nice scenes, by the way.  He has a nice ass, and she has great tits—so how am I supposed to think this is love?  She is chafed by her relationship with her husband, but there is more love and tenderness there than in her relationship with Maurice.  That’s infatuation, loneliness, and something else—not love.  In addition, Henry is a much better and even more interesting person than is Maurice.  I also think he’s better looking, but that’s just a personal preference. 

That’s neither here nor there as desire is subjective.  What is objective, however, is all the plot points that are there only to move the movie forward.  Also, the missing plot points that aren’t there for the same reason.  Such as, when Sarah is feeling frustrated at Henry’s lack of attention, not once does she mention it to him.  Instead of trying to salvage her relationship with him, she has a torrid sexual relationship with Maurice, a supposed friend.  Then, when the big, climatic scene happens, instead of her just explaining to Maurice what happened, she flees after uttering something cryptic.  I want to scream in frustration as it’s obviously An Obstacle to keep the movie going.  The whole God aspect isn’t dealt with very well as God is shown very reductively here.  Sarah makes a promise.  She breaks the promise.  She must be made to pay the ultimate price.

By this way, there are many similarities between this movie and Moulin Rouge.  In fact, I think Julianne Moore looks a great deal like Nicole Kidman here.  The same ethereal beauty, the same hacking cough.  It’s clear from the beginning that there is something dreadfully wrong with Sarah, just as there was with Satine.  There is the writer in both cases—though Christian is much more attractive and human than is Maurice.  There is the inevitable triangle and the inevitable ending.  This movie was made first, however, so I guess Moulin Rouge is the copier.  However, the clichéd ending that works well in Moulin Rouge doesn’t work as well here.  Probably because this isn’t a musical.

I have to give mad props to two Harry Potter alums.  Jason Isaacs is terrific in the small part of Father Smythe.  One would expect a priest to be pious and gentle and all that.  Not this one.  He is passionate and fiery and sarcastic.  It’s a risky choice, but one that works beautifully.  It’s refreshing to see a pastor who is a real man and not just a saint on earth.  I could easily see Father Smythe quaffing back a few ones in the local pub and perhaps getting into a fistfight as well.  Plus, those brilliant blue eyes are just yummy.  Next up, Ian Hart as Mr. Parkis, the private detective agent who is hired by Maurice to follow Sarah.  Hart is nothing short of fantastic in this role, and I am filled with admiration once more at how versatile an actor he is even if his character isn’t totally believable.

Ok.  It sounds like I’m totally dissing this movie, the last paragraph notwithstanding.  Not true.  Despite all the failings of the movie, I was leaning towards recommending it for your Netflix Queue because of the stellar acting which makes this movie far better than it has any right to be.  Even though I never believe for a single minute that anything I’m watching is real, I am ok with that.  I think of it as a play that entertains me even if it doesn’t transport me.  However, the last fifteen minutes or so totally kill this movie for me.  After Maurice moves in with Henry and Sarah, the movie speeds downhill until it crashes.  When Henry is talking to Maurice about knowing about the affair, I sense what the next line is going to be, and I plead it not to be so.  It is, and I actually roll my eyes.  I don’t do that except under extreme duress, so I know the moment is big—in a negative way.  Then, the final miracle occurs, and I completely lose any interest in this movie that I ever had.  What’s worse, I feel ripped off and pissed off.  The last bit with Maurice at his typewriter is fine, but it’s too late by then.  Ten minutes of incredibly horrid plot ruined any chance I’d recommend this movie.  It is with utmost regret that I must decline to recommend this movie.  In the end, this affair didn’t amount to anything.

p.s.  It’s a good thing that the relationship between Sarah and Maurice never had a chance to last because I would bet that they, like Renee Zellweger and Kenny Chesney, would have had that marriage annulled before the ink even dried on the certificate.  That’s the great thing about the ending for the movie—the couple doesn’t have to actually live or love.

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