I happened to see this sweet, thoughtful movie on a long plane journey titled “45 Years” It’s a story about a couple who have been married for 45 years and are weeks away from an anniversary party celebrating their marriage. The pacing is slow and the acting is thoughtful . I’m sure it didn’t last long in the theaters – we are so accustomed to action and sex to keep our attention.
So the husband (listed as next of kin) gets a letter indicating that the remains of his lover (prior to meeting and marrying Jane) had been found. Fifty years ago there had been a vague, tragic accident hiking in the Alps where she had fallen in a crevice and was unrecoverable. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) sees his distraction , they talk a bit about that time of his life, what it meant to him. She begins to worry about how much thought he was giving to the resurrected memories of this long ago relationship. Eventually she heads to the attic and digs out photos that show that the lover had been pregnant on that trip long ago. Her husband had never told her this. Subtly you can see her weighing thoughts of her choice to be childless. She begins to feel insecure just as plans for the party are imminent. She doesn’t say that she has discovered the fact of the pregnancy. While at first asking him to feel free to talk about the prior relationship and his memories, she eventually requested that he stop –trying to protect herself and her sense of the happy 45 year marriage they had achieved. All of this is processed internally and magically in Kate’s beautifully aged face. She watches as Richard starts to smoking again (a habit they gave up together so it feels like an infidelity) and that he begins to walk alone from time to time. She knows that he is reflecting on this long ago memory and she has to balance understanding with the feeling that after all these years she did not know all about her husband.
There is a triumphant entry into the gala party room, surrounded by friends and family from decades – smiles all around and good cheer. Richard makes a toast to his marriage full of all the right things to have said- even with tears at one point – but we sense that Kate feels something missing –her face with a relaxed smile and confused eyes – though no one else would have noticed she hides it so well. They take the floor for their first dance together and all are enthralled by the happy couple. Fantastic acting as she appears a bit less than exuberant and he is jolly but his eyes are closed a lot as they dance…. A slight disconnection.– a going through the motions. After the final twirl he holds her hand up high as they finish – and then after a moment which should have been triumphant she suddenly yanks her arm down and out of his grasp.. Her face an exquisite mix of emotions. And the film ends there.
This struck me as comparable to that time in a relationship where we learn something about a prior love or time of life that we were not a part of.
It’s that piece of a person that is not ‘with’ us. It is their history which cannot be undone. Like a jealous lover Kate feels betrayed by this piece of her husband – that his lost lover was pregnant- that was kept from her. At this stage of her life it is magnified in meaning since she chose to be childless. She thought she was everything to him but she was not. Another woman and their child were there first and still active now in his memory. Kate is an adult and grapples with her internal reactions to these feelings – disguising them, denying them and ultimately unable to keep her hand aloft with his at the final dance twirl-pulling it from his grasp.
Kate realizes she did not really ‘have’ all of her husband, as she had thought after 45 years together. In relationship we think we want to merge and be one. Much conflict in the relationship is a result of the fact that we are NOT one, but two….. with respect for each other’s differing feelings and experiences….not merged….an uncomfortable fact and brave to accept..