In the lurch between nostalgia and regret is self-reflection. Crippling, obsessive, the type that forces re-examination of life up until that point, attempting to find a fault line. But once the memories are cleansed, detached from the blissful past, what remains, exactly?
Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years occupies such a territory. It’s one that begins quiet and undisturbed, until reflection causes it to quickly crumble into disrepair.The film takes a situation that is usually associated with stability and peacefulness, long after one expects for the unknown to loom in the corner. But as Haigh quickly reveals, there is more tragedy and more left unsaid and unconsidered than one could possibly anticipate.
The film places the audience as a fly-on-the-wall for the week leading up to the 45th wedding anniversary of Kate (Charlotte Rampling, Oscar nominated for her turn) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay). Despite their long relationship, their history is largely intangible – their house is largely absent of photos, they have no children (take note of these details), and neither had particularly remarkable jobs. They exist in a sense of the anonymous, a connection completely self-contained that no outsider could ever understand it, nor will their relationship remain once they disappear. All that remains is memories, a comfort and a trap, able to crumble in a second.
There’s seemingly little that could tear them apart (early on, Rampling and Courtenay play their characters as two intertwined halves of the same whole). They’re past a period where they have much to learn about the other one, relaxed into their easy dynamic. But then a letter arrives that begins to bring into question all that preceded. Its revelation looms in a corner, silently encroaching and driving them apart until they’re no longer recognisable to each other, forced to exist independently for the first time.
Haigh’s camera observes Kate’s perspective as she goes about the week preceding the anniversary, making preparations for the large party at the end of the week, visiting friends, and quietly interrogating the past. The struggle is invisible to anyone outside the situation, so self-contained that it suddenly permeates every action. Kate is quickly forced to re-consider every memory through the lens of what she now knows, a silent inner turmoil charted by Rampling in small flickers between facial expressions as another memory crumbles and she considers whether their connection was ever truly their own.
The concept of shared history and what defines it looms over the film, particularly as Kate confronts a few lone relics of the past. A slide projector clicks in a silent room, each new image introducing making the looming presence all the more real. The Platters’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes plays, a once happy symbol now lost its meaning. Over the week the film unfolds, where each day more of the past is lost and a connection degraded, Haigh continues to ask what now remains of Kate and Geoff. But as we reach the final scene, a cathartic moment, one that we feel we shouldn’t know the truth behind, we ask a question ourselves – was there ever anything there?