The Deep Blue Sea

The Deep Blue Sea (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Hester (Rachel Weisz) wishes to kill herself by ingesting a handful of aspirin and suffocating herself with gas. This attempt at suicide leads to failure, however, when her worried neighbors decide to enter the premises because they hear no answer from her end. During her state of near death, we are given the chance to look into her memories. It turns out that she’s married to a judge named William (Simon Russell Beale), at least ten to twenty years her senior, and is deeply infatuated with Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), a former pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War II.

“The Deep Blue Sea” sketches a portrait of people in a current state of suffering and we are invited to partake in their conflicting emotions by means of observing its actors perform with such a high level and heavy intensity, I found it difficult to look away from a scene even when the characters themselves are unable to face the situations that befall them.

Weisz is almost always in every frame but not once do we see her energy waver. She is required to navigate through an archipelago of emotions, from the subtle distinctions between crippling shame and self-loathing to periods of explosive but genuine happiness and contentment, without coming off as performing for an audience. This is a pitfall that has been circumvented quite successfully despite the material being based on Terence Rattigan’s play. Every movement of Weisz’ hands, lips, and eyes is calculated to a tee that specific intervals when Hester does not say a word communicates an entire story. We feel her pain and yet she is not to be pitied. We are reminded that she is smart enough to make choices and so she must be responsible for dealing with her dilemmas.

Meanwhile, Hiddleston proves to be her equal as a technician. Though he is given more scenes in which he has to deliver outbursts of anger toward the woman he loves and the unbearable frustration in their situation, he is aware not to cross the line as to be considered the enemy, the figure that Hester must overcome to have another chance at starting over. Instead, he highlights the heartbreak in his character by conveying a certain awareness that although he cares deeply for Hester, maybe what they have is meant to be a transient thing despite the amount of hardwork they put into the machine.

I believe that the film is a love story even though it spends most of its time focusing on the darker, unhealthy aspects of passion. The scene with the woman (Ann Mitchell) explaining to Hester what love is while the latter looks at former’s dying husband is ironic in that it offers a glimmer of warmth instead of something to be feared or feel sad about. The way it turns over some its cards and revealing something unexpected is joyous. After all, how can we measure darkness without a bit of light?

Based on the screenplay and directed by Terence Davies, the film also uses music to its advantage by magnifying the emotions conveyed on the screen. I’m the first to cry foul when music gets in the way of the work but it feels appropriate here. Because the characters are so into their thoughts at times, the music urges us to consider what someone might be thinking or feeling if, for instance, a defensive stance is taken.

Ultimately, “The Deep Blue Sea” tells Hester’s story and it is bewitching to watch her, almost like observing a person in a sinking canoe who is desperately paddling toward land still a mile away.

2 replies »

  1. Franz,

    I’m usually not a fan of this type of meticulously crafted period pieces., but I make an exception for Terence Davies (not least the more loosely structured “The Long Day Closes”, and the superb, essayistic “Of Time and the City”). This movie snuck up on me, not least because of a very strong set of performances, but eventually I was also drawn into the heavily destined drama. I liked how all of the three central characters were as hard to love unconditionally, or even like at times, as they were impossible to utterly condemn. That’s no small feat.

    • This movie surprised me, too. I wasn’t looking forward to watching it (it’s been on my Netflix streaming list for… a while) because from the synopses posted, it sounds incredibly depressing and not all elevated by a tired premise of a woman torn between two men. But once its gears started rolling, I was so interested in what would happen next and wondered what else Weisz and Hiddleston have in their arsenal considering that they seem to be increasing the ante in every other scene. They, as well as the film, did not disappoint. I so admired the last shot. I think it’s one of the best final shots I’ve seen this year.

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