The Deep Blue Sea: Not a Shark Movie

By March 26, 2012Movie Reviews

Right off the bat: This isn't the shark movie. 

They had to have known, right? The difference between Deep Blue Sea and The Deep Blue Sea is that one gets an extra definite article and the other gets Thomas Jane. It's a much bigger misstep than the previous winner in this category, 28 Days vs. 28 Days Later, wherein the absence of the adverb denotes the absence of the undead. It's based on the Terence Rattigan play by the same name (and not Danny and the Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley as I originally hoped), so I understand the estate probably prevented any variation on the title, but isn't the bigger disservice to the work forcing people to joke about killer sharks rather than coming to the film with a blank slate? Right. So that's out of the way.

THE Deep Blue Sea is a drama period piece set in post-war 1950's London, where everyone should be happy but they aren't. The least happy person of all is Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), who is so very unhappy that she opens the film with a suicide attempt. I'm thinking thatLittle Miss Sunshine is still the only film where we open on a character's suicide attempt and still manage to identify with them. Maybe Amadeus? Needless to say, it does little for us here.

The rest of the film is framed around Hester's day of recovery, with flashbacks to moments in the previous year of her life. Flashbacks, I might note, that have no transition, and that exist without order, so you're almost never sure where you are in the narrative, until someone starts yelling. Hester is married to a much older British judge, Sir William Collyer (Simon Russel Beale), and they inhabit a large estate with his mother. Whilst gallivanting around town, she becomes enamored with a young RAF pilot named Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston). Hester finds herself in the age old dilemma of choosing between an older man's security and a younger man's passion. So it goes.

The cinematography goes to great lengths to be both stylized and yet unnoticeable. Much like Shame, the film makes excellent use of long takes, and occasionally surprises with a cinematic flourish. Set design, even amidst the few locations, does such painstaking work at recreating the time, the film even chooses to close on some nearby rubbish. 

Everything else I can do without.

I'll give you that the acting is strong. Strong-ish. The dialogue, even for a period piece, is so stilted and cardboard that it occasionally verges on the silly. Is this the fault of the actors? Rattigan certainly wrote this in the time it was set, but the delivery makes it seem like he was writing a spoof of a 1950's Londoners. Is it the fault of the adaptation? While I'm not familiar with this play, I do know that Rattigan was somewhat critically outed by the Angry Young Men, a group of British playwrights and novelists who came into fashion around this time, whose ethos included big, overt showmanship as opposed to smaller, intimate angst. By that measure, Rattigan's play was probably considered old fashioned even at the time it was released. And the film does nothing to improve that. The score is such over-the-top melodrama you can practically feel the its clumsy attempts to manipulate your heartstrings.

Which makes me wonder if it was almost intentionally bad. See, manipulation seems to be the entire thematic thrust. 

The "tragedy" is ostensibly about a woman with a difficult choice. There's an older man who loves her with all his heart, and would die sooner than see her miserable, but he's too old-fashioned and not the physical specimen she would choose. Then there's the pilot who picked her up from a bar, who lives meekly and has no true emotional connection to her, but fulfills her sexually (or so is implied, I suppose). She moves in with the pilot and discovers love isn't what she expected, and tries to kill herself, a number of times. 

But it's NONSENSE. On so many levels, nothing in this film adds up. The older husband, for being too out of touch, is the only person Hester has even functional conversations with, and these conversations are the only times anybody smiles. They're always happy together, and he gives her innumerable free passes. Why is she trying to kill herself, over not being able to have her life back, if he's always there with an open invitation? And while little sexuality is seen between her and the pilot, there's also no real mention of it. If he was the greatest Lothario in England, this relationship would make sense, but it's barely acknowledged. Instead, the film seems to be Hester trying desperately to choose between an older man who loves her, likes her, and makes her happy versus a frightening, war damaged psychopath, with no prospects. But he's prettier. So it's a tough call.

I reject the premise of Hester being stuck between these two hard choices, and see it rather as a story of manipulation. She's already broken her husband, and even in their time apart, she still emotionally attacks to prevent him from growing a spine. Meanwhile, she thinks the pilot is under her thumb, and when he tries to have a life of his own she begins to lose her mind, seemingly only the create issues that will force his return, or at very least, his attention. 

The twist wants to a parable on how love cannot be what we expect of it, and perhaps that poetic notions of romantic love should be anchored to a degree of reality, but how can that be a twist if it seems the character has this figured out in Act One? Maybe Hester was surprised that she couldn't control both men at the same time, but she completely understood (and admits as much, repeatedly) that she would never get love from the pilot and she would never get excitement from her husband. So isn't this almost a heist movie? A tale of a girl who has found a way to have it all; a love that cannot exist by combining two that do. All she needs is control over two men who don't want their willpower stolen, but repeatedly fall to her lines of logic and false promises. 

The film even culminates in a scene where the pilot has stayed an extra night against his will, and before sending him off Hester cold-heartedly plays into one of his superstitions, in such a way as to say: "If you leave me, you will die." But then we're right back into the suicide moments. Hester becomes so obsessed with controlling the people around her, she's lost any semblance of control over herself, and we have to wonder if she ever possessed any. At the end of the day, cunning manipulation is the only answer for why anyone, much less two people, would have interest in that girl.

There are flashes of a better film, including a sequence of fighting in a bar where only the group sing-a-long can be heard, but it's mostly a wasteland. Just as Hester fails to control her lovers, the film also fails to manipulate the audience. Or more accurately, when we see how hard you're trying, it's a total turn off.