45 Years is about an older and retired couple in Britain who are going about enjoying their declining years (and there will be a lot of declining before this film is through) with comfort in their financial and physical circumstances and in their relationship and marriage of 45 years. Indeed, Kate (Charlotte Rampling's role) is planning their 45th anniversary party. They skipped the 40th one because of Jeffery's (Tom Courtenay doing one of his innocuous and oblivious older man roles) bypass operation in that year. Jeffery is back in adequate health, although a neighbor who sees him in town insists that something is wrong with him (she's right but not in the sense that she thinks) and Jeffery later complains that he still can not walk very far without getting out of breath. The film is dropping hints that not all is as it seems.
Kate is doing all the walking for the couple. The film begins and periodically shows us Kate walking the family dog in the fields and along the roads. The walks appear to be long and thorough and satisfying for Kate and the dog. The camera stays back, a long way back, on the happy dog and his human. The camera removes itself from the action in the film and only moves in when just Kate and Jeffery are reacting to each other. At the end, the camera only focuses on Kate. The movie is about Kate.
Early in the film, after an invigorating dog walk and a tall glass of water, Kate notices that Jeffery has received a letter from Switzerland notifying him that due to global warming and a melting glacier, that the body of a young woman has been found in the glacier's melted wash. Jeffery is the designated next-of-kin although he really isn't. The wet glacier young lady was a friend of his (later discovered by Kate to be his lover) with whom he was touring Europe in his youth. The young lady fell down a memory or glacier hole to her oblivion and death until she floated back to the surface forty something years later. Kate never knew about Jeffery's woman before her. Kate always thought that their meeting and marriage was just one of those perfect unions of human kind. There was nothing much before Kate and Jeffery (in Kate's mind) and there might not be much of them left after the movie ends.
The film concerns the slow and tortuous unraveling of the story of Jeffery and the glacier maid. Jeffery is remembering his old girlfriend now that she has been brought back life in his memories, but Jeffery is not the kind of guy who dwells on much of anything if he can help it. He doesn't like to go back to reunions with his old executive work pals and he isn't really keen on the anniversary coming up. Indeed, despite his heart problems (and Jeffery has not only physical heart problems but emotional ones as well), Jeffery has gone back to smoking on benches in town away from Kate's notice (probably the cause of the neighbor's concern about his health earlier in the picture) until she notices when she comes to pick him up. Kate is the doer in the family, she drives Jeffery (she probably drove him to be successful in his career too) and she walks the dog and she makes dinner. Jeffery just sits and takes it all as his due. In fact for the first 20 minutes of the picture, I thought that Jeffery was in a wheelchair from his limited movements.
A lovely moment in the film (lovely for the themes and the images, not lovely for Kate's emotional downfall) occurs in the attic of the couple's house. Jeffery has been sneaking up there at night and Kate can hear the picture slide projector clicking and whirling (it reminded me of Mad Men's carousel slide ad, but this one is about the bad and disgarded memories of one's life). Kate gets the immobile Jeffery out of the house and goes up into the attic (and yells at the dog while doing it) and on a ghostly white sheet, she runs the slide projector for herself. The slides are pictures of Jeffery and his wet and icy lady love of his youth. That is bad enough for Kate who thought that she was the love of Jeffery's life, but it gets worse when she sees what more discomfort and disillusion those slides have to offer her about her fruitful (to her at least) marriage. Jeffery's deceptions crush Kate. And the lady love in her ghostly projection sheet in the slides breaks Kate's heart and her belief in herself and the marriage that has been her life's work for the past 45 years.
I've enjoyed Miss Rampling's work since her part as the supreme bitch in Georgy Girl. She plays a much more conventional woman in 45 Years, but she inhabits the part fully and comfortably. It is always good to see an older woman actress being given a well-written and important part in a movie. It is a real woman part, she is not a detective or a drag older woman or a crazy granny.
I commend the academy for nominating her and acknowledging the movie and her part in it. She was given a good character to play and she did it beautifully, if only more movies could this humanizing for women.
I am aware of the current controversy of nominations for the Academy Awards but I will not be addressing that in this post. Later.