You’re invited to attend the 45th wedding celebration of Kate and Geoff Mercer, but it’s an affair that you might want to skip. “45 Years” is Andrew Haigh’s quiet, sleepy tale of a seemingly happy, yet simple marriage that gets shaken to the core in about a week’s time.
From the opening of the indie film, we are almost immediately thrown into the beginning stages of a strained relationship. Geoff is sitting in the kitchen opening his mail when he is shocked by something he has just read. It is a letter sent from Switzerland announcing news that the body of a former girlfriend of his has been found in the Alps. Kate knew a little about this former girlfriend, but only a little because Geoff didn’t talk about her much.
Geoff proceeds to tell Kate about he and this other woman went on a hiking vacation when she slipped and fell into a fissure, a narrow crack in a rock. For years her body had been buried under ice and snow, but recently was recovered. So begins the little tear into the Mercer marriage. As the days progress, Geoff finds himself obsessing on the former girlfriend. Kate pleasantly tells him that he is “getting over-passionate about things” but the truth is, Kates is becoming more and more jealous of this mystery woman.
“I can hardly be cross with something that happened before we existed, can I?” she asks Geoff, but we already know the answer. Each day, Geoff tells Kate more about this other woman. Perhaps he thinks he is clearing the air, but instead it only makes Kate doubt her own marriage. In one scene, late at night, Geoff is up in the attic. When caught by his wife, he exclaims that he found the photo he was looking for of the woman. Kate snaps, “You didn’t find it. You purposely went to go look for it. It’s another thing entirely!” When Geoff leaves the house, Kate explores the attic and finds that Geoff kept more than a few secrets about this former lover.
This all boils down to the couple’s big night with all their friends gathered around to share in 45 years of wedded bliss, but fun is all spoiled. At least it is for Kate. By now, the fissure has become pretty large. The marriage isn’t over, but it has a lot of repair work to do. And to think, that had the two talked about this other woman years earlier, they would never be in the spot that they are in now.
“45 Years” is a very interesting if not sobering look into a marriage during its twilight years, but the lesson it shares can help many other marriages if only the audience will listen learn from the mistakes of these two. It challenges the viewer to take a risk and share their feeling with one another, but acknowledges that it can be easier said than done.
“I think it’s very hard for anyone to be truly open about their feelings because for most of the time they make no sense to us,” says Haigh in a press statement about the film. “We can experience them but it is hard for us to articulate what they are. It is also a risk – sharing you inner most feelings is always going to feel like a risk.”
Kate and Geoff are played by British greatness of Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay who can carry a scene with just a few simple glances. The story is told from Kate’s perspective, so Goeff’s pre-occupation with the dead woman may not be as bad as it seems, but it no doubt causes him to judge his life and causes him to wonder where he would be now if he had married the first girl.
At the wedding anniversary celebration, Geoff gives a tribute to the woman he married and gets choked up, but you are left wondering if he is choked up over Kate or that fact that he still misses the other woman.