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On a rainy London night in 1946, novelist Maurice Bendrix has a chance meeting with Henry Miles, husband of his ex-mistress Sarah, who abruptly ended their affair two years before. Bendrix's obsession with Sarah is rekindled; he succumbs to his own jealousy and arranges to have her followed. Written by
One of the great joys in movie watching lies in stumbling across films that, by their very nature, should be nothing more than clichéd, hackneyed versions of stories we have seen a thousand times before yet, somehow, through the insightfulness of their creators, manage to illuminate those tales in ways that are wholly new and unexpected. Such is the case with Neil Jordan's `The End of the Affair,' a film that in its bare boned outlining would promise to be nothing more than a conventional, three-handkerchief weepie centered around the hoary issue of romantic infidelity, but which emerges, instead, as a beautiful and moving meditation on the overwhelming force jealousy, love, commitment and passion can exert on our lives.
Ralph Fiennes stars as Maurice Bendrix, a British writer living in 1940's London, who has an affair with Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore), the wife of Maurice's friend, Henry (Stephen Rea). Based on a Graham Greene novel, the film achieves far greater intellectual and emotional depth than this skeletal outline would indicate. Part of the success rests in the fact that both the original author and the adapter, writer/director Neil Jordan, have devised a multi-level scenario that utilizes a number of narrative techniques as the means of revealing crucial information to the audience regarding both the plot and the characters. For instance, the film travels fluidly back and forth in time, spanning the decade of the 1940's, from the initial meeting between Bendrix and Sarah in 1939, through the horrendous bombings of London during World War II to the `present' time of the post-war British world. This allows the authors to reveal the details of the affair slowly, enhanced by the even more striking technique of having the events viewed from the entirely different viewpoints of the two main characters involved. `Rashomon' like, we first see the affair through the prism of Bendrix's limited perspective, only to discover, after he has confiscated Sarah's diary, that he (and consequently we) have been utterly mistaken as to the personal attributes and moral quality of Sarah all along. Thus, as an added irony, Bendrix discovers that he has been obsessing over a woman he `loves' but, in reality, knows little about.
The authors also enhance the depth of the story through their examination of TWO men struggling with their overwhelming jealousy for the same woman and the complex inter-relationships that are set up as a result. In fact, the chief distinction of this film is the way it manages to lay bare the souls of all three of these fascinating characters, making them complex, enigmatic and three-dimensional human beings with which, in their universality, we can all identify. Bendrix struggles with his raging romantic passions, his obsessive jealousy for the woman he can't possess and his lack of belief in God, the last of which faces its ultimate challenge at the end. Sarah struggles with the lack of passion she finds in the man she has married but cannot love as more than a friend, juxtaposed to the intense love she feels for this man she knows she can never fully have. In addition, she finds herself strangely faithful, if not to the two men in her life, at least to two crucial commitments (one to her wedding vows and one to God) yet unable to fully understand why. Henry struggles with his inadequacies as a lover and the strange possessiveness that nevertheless holds sway over him. Even the minor characters are fascinating. Particularly intriguing is the private investigator who becomes strangely enmeshed in the entire business as both Bendrix and Henry set him out to record Sarah's activities and whereabouts, a man full of compassion for the people whom he is, by the nature of his profession, supposed to view from a position of coldhearted objectivity. (One plot flaw does, however, show up here: why would this man, whose job it is to spy on unsuspecting people for his clients, employ a boy to help him who sports a very distinctive birthmark on one side of his face?).
`The End of the Affair' would not be the noteworthy triumph it is without the stellar, subtly nuanced performances of its three main stars. In addition, as director, Jordan, especially in the second half, achieves a lyricism rare in modern filmmaking. Through a fluidly gliding camera and a mesmerizing musical score, Jordan lifts the film almost to the level of cinematic poetry as we sit transfixed by the emotional richness and romantic purity of the experience. `The End of the Affair' takes its place alongside `Brief Encounter' and `Two For the Road' as one of the very best studies of a romantic relationship ever put on film.
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