★★★ / ★★★★
Stephen (Jeremy Irons) locks eyes with Anna (Juliette Binoche) at a party. Stuck in an increasingly passionless marriage with his nonetheless loving wife, Ingrid (Miranda Richardson), Stephen yearns to have Anna. She wants to have him, too. However, the ravishing woman across the room turns out to be the girlfriend of Martyn (Rupert Graves), Stephen’s son, and the two have plans of creating a future together.
Based on the novel by Josephine Hart, I watched “Damage” in complete fascination because of its directness in dealing with needs and wants. While it could have been too easy and cheap to show only the man wanting to have sex with another woman outside of his marriage, I liked that Anna is given scenes in which she brazenly makes the first move. After all, breathing life into an affair usually involves two people.
The scenes involving sex are titillating but never exploitative. In order to understand Stephen’s need to possess and Anna’s need to be wanted, we are required to see them in various carnal situations and what they wish to do to each other to quench their hunger.
We observe their ritual. They are always only a phone call away. An invitation to meet is consistently met with acceptance. For Stephen, putting his hands around Anna is an uncontrollable itch that needs to be scratched. His obsession is passionate but can be scary at times. For instance, being a member of the Parliament, he has a meeting in Brussels. Just as it adjourns, despite not getting any sleep, he takes earliest available train to Paris to see Anna, all the while knowing that she is with Martyn on a getaway. We are made to wonder if deep inside he hopes to get caught in order to save himself the trouble of having to explain that what he and Ingrid have is no longer viable.
For Anna, being wanted by Stephen is like reliving a time in her life when she feels truly loved, but the love was considered wrong and immoral. One of the darkest and most intriguing scenes involves Anna talking about her past and how the tragedy she experienced has found a way to reside and lay dormant within her. The mysterious sadness she exudes is what attracts Stephen—and his son—to her.
While the nature of Anna and Stephen’s relationship is open to interpretation, not for a second was I convinced that what they share is love—at least not the kind that can last. In my eyes, love is between Stephen and Ingrid: dealing with the routine of the every day and learning to be content and see the bright side even if things may go wrong slightly. Despite Stephen and Ingrid not having one sex scene, the combination of David Hare’s screenplay along with Irons and Richardson’s nuanced acting suggest a long and loving history between the husband and wife.
Directed with a critical eye by Louis Malle, “Damage” is a fascinating portrait of a man willing to risk it all, crossing lines as if he were a blind man without a cane. We keep watching because we know that the risk is not worth the reward and he does not. Or perhaps he does but he is unwilling to accept it because any change when it comes to his marriage—even crushing it completely—serves as a reminder that he is still alive.