Terence Davies’s ‘Deep Blue Sea’ captures repressed passion

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After a 12-year hiatus, director Terence Davies adapts Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play “The Deep Blue Sea” into an operatic glimpse at a woman’s disillusionment with a world unable to reciprocate the nuclear love that’s sprouted within her.

The film begins with a suicide attempt by Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), the 40-year-old heroine, who leaves a note and then fills her apartment with gas to asphyxiate to death. Her plan is thwarted when her neighbors discover her in time.

To start your movie with a suicide attempt is a tricky task. You risk failing to relay the character’s despair and preempting the audience’s ability to understand the magnitude of her plight. Fortunately, Davies crafts his movie around the gifted Rachel Weisz, who does a beautiful job of internalizing Hester’s emotional paralysis.

As the movie drifts between the accident and flashes of the heroine’s past, we learn that the source of Hester’s misery comes from her divergent affections toward two men. She has left her husband William Collyer, a wealthy judge (Simon Russell Beale), for her lover, the R.A.F pilot, Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston).

Although Freddie provides Hester with the passion absent in her marriage, there’s a harmonious tenderness between the spouses that we miss in the lovers’ moments together. It’s hard to imagine a woman abandoning an opulent life just so she can fulfill her sexual needs with a washout like Freddie, especially when the affair is a battered ram. Whenever they’re not frolicking in bed, they’re emotionally off tune.

But there’s a particular scene in the film that registers so much more than lust. In a bar, where the crowd sings the 1952 ballad “You Belong To Me,” the lovers lock eyes as they serenade each other. She’s lost in Freddie’s eyes, an ocean of love rendering her helpless to the handsome devil.

This moment sums up Weisz’s performance in one breath-taking note. It’s a romantic octave that we’re not used to seeing in actresses of Weisz’s generation. Her eyes are enough for us to understand that Freddie is “the whole of life” for this martyr of love.

The actress’s eyes become a vessel to Hester’s internal warfare. In that scene, Weisz evokes more about her character than most performers ever wrestle from entire careers. The dreaminess in her eyes conveys so much about rare and illogical love in general and about women who experience moments of romantic fulfillment as cosmic recompense for so rarely getting what they want.

Even the cinematography seems to scintillate as her mood shifts, from brownish shades of melancholy to reddish hues of incandescence. The actress more than services Davies’ efforts, wisely resisting overplaying the melodramatic anguish clawing at Hester, instead opting for razor-sharp moments of silence where her body is enough to communicate the emotional perturbation.

Eventually, even Freddie, for all his romantic exuberance, proves fickle, unable to reciprocate Hester’s unreasoning devotion. He flinches at her colossal passion, and cannot handle her demands. And the realization that neither life that both men have to offer are enough for her proves a stab to the heart. Too depressing to swallow, it drives her to attempt suicide.

Hester’s life might seem like a relentless cacophony, but this movie is a disarmingly lived-in, delicate symphony of true love. “The Deep Blue Sea” is neither romantic nor erotic, but it still brims with passion — a passion that seems to only survive within our heroine’s soul, and that the world, or at least 1950s England, is not ready to embrace.