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Reflections Of Their Life: 45 Years

Updated on February 20, 2016

The movie 45 Years takes a look at a couple in the days leading up to a milestone in their marriage. Their focus, however, becomes diverted from any celebration as the result of a letter. Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) and her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) live their lives as retirees in a small English town. One day, though, Geoff receives a letter written in German by an old acquaintance in Switzerland. Years ago, Geoff and his former lover Katya traveled the country, posing as a married couple to ensure they receive lodging. However, Katya died in an accident while she and Geoff while hiking in the Alps. The correspondent tells Geoff that the ice-encased body of Katya has been discovered. This makes Kate start asking questions about Katya. Geoff does, and produces an old photo of her. While Geoff goes into town, Kate goes into their attic and finds a series of slides featuring Katya, as well as a journal Geoff kept of that time. Troubled, Kate eventually asks if Geoff would have asked Katya if he would have really married Katya, and he admits he would have.

These events happens as plans are being made for Geoff and Kate to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary with their friends at the town hall. Their 40th anniversary was canceled due to a health scare for Geoff. The more Kate ponders her life with him, the more thoughts of Katya run through her mind. Geoff, too, has taken the news about Katya hard. He has taken up smoking again, and has talked to a travel agent about a trip that would allow him to see Katya again. Geoff tries to refocus his affection on Kate, who has also resumed smoking, and has some success. Something happens at the party, though, that indicates this may not be a very happy anniversary.

David Constantine's story In Another Country serves as the basis for 45 Years. It is a quiet, brooding, thought-provoking picture about a long-standing marriage being put to a test. Kate starts to wonder if she were a second choice in every sense to Geoff. The letter awakens old feelings of time where the Mercers had yet to meet each other. While Geoff obviously found a life and a woman he wanted in Kate, viewers start to wonder if a part of him died in the Swiss Alps when he lost Katya forever. The situation fills the Mercer home with sadness, as though Katya's death were a recent occurrence, and makes a time of celebration a time of reflection instead. Director-scenarist Andrew Haigh captures the mood of the couple, but I also felt a bit ambivalent about the Mercers. At a time where each could use support, neither Kate nor Geoff seem very supportive or sympathetic with each other at a time where both need it. At least, they should have made a greater effort to talk meaningfully about Geoff's one-time beloved. Certainly, some have questioned the choice of song to symbolize their marriage and their love.

Rampling and Courtenay are practically the whole movie, and these veteran actors deliver performances that make 45 Years bearable. Rampling shows the changes that Kate goes through in the course of mere days. She goes from being a contented retired person and wife to a person who wonders about the marriage she has lived. Kate had lived believing she was the one person Geoff needed, but the letter makes her think otherwise. Courtenay, as Geoff, remains a loving husband, but he rediscovers his feelings for Katya, and wants more of a closure than he had more than half a century earlier. Geoff has never fully realized how much he lost when he lost Katya. Those feelings now inadvertently affect his life with Kate, though he thinks and hopes to do right by his wife.

In 45 Years, two people find their love tested by the paths their lives did not take, and by the meaningful words these people don't say. The life that Kate and Geoff Mercer have came, in part, as a result of a tragic loss Geoff experienced. He got on with his life, though a letter he receives suggests that a part of Geoff that Kate needed had gone missing before they met. Their situation reminds me of the words of John Greenleaf Whittier. His words state that the four saddest words are the following: it might have been.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give 45 Years three stars. "They asked me how I knew, my true love was true." - Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach.


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