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Friday, Nov. 18, 2005

Lesson in not letting love drift away

Enduring Love

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)
Director: Roger Michell
Running time: 101 minutes
Language: English
Opens Nov. 19
[See Japan Times movie listings]

"Enduring Love" has an ominous ring to it; as if love is by nature incapable of lasting and almost an oxymoron.

News photo
Daniel Craig and Samantha Morton in "Enduring Love"

So you might have a queasy premonition in the film's opening sequence. On a golden meadow under a perfect blue sky several pairs of lovers picnic on blankets. Suddenly, you see a red, hot-air balloon begin to skid on the grass with a small boy still in its basket. His grandfather tries in vain to hang onto the ropes and others come running to help.

One of them is Joe (Daniel Craig), who is there with his girlfriend and was about to propose marriage when he noticed the boy in the balloon; another is Jed (Rhys Ifans); and the third is a doctor (Lee Sheward). The three men take hold of the ropes when a sudden gust of wind sends the balloon spiraling into the air with all three clinging to the sides of the basket -- Jed and Joe give up and jump to the ground, but the doctor keeps hanging on as the balloon climbs high into the sky.

He eventually has to let go and lands with a horrible thud at the other end of the meadow. Joe and Jed run over to find the doctor's crumpled body, and, after much convincing by Jed, Joe finally agrees to join him in prayer.

From that moment on, Joe's life is never the same.

Directed by Roger Michell and adapted from the novel by Ian McEwan, "Enduring Love (released in Japan as 'J no Higeki' )" is a strange, elegant story that explores the different modes of love and how they manifest themselves.

After the balloon accident, Jed contacts Joe and insists that they "share a certain bond," created by a divine act of will that was meant to bring them together. Joe recoils and insists otherwise. For him, the tragedy did nothing but crush his self-esteem, disrupt the comfortable relationship he had with girlfriend, Claire (Samantha Morton), and haunt him with guilt.

Spurned, Jed turns into Joe's stalker, by turns coaxing and pleading for his attention. In one disturbing scene Joe is having lunch with a friend in a chic restaurant when Jed walks in and demands a chat. Up to that point Joe had been frosty, but polite; now he can hardly contain his rage and tells Jed to get out of his face, while viciously stabbing at his salad with a gleaming fork. "You don't know what love is," Jed says to Joe and we almost believe him. For while Jed is sweet and perpetually speaking of love with exalted elation, Joe teaches his literature class (he's a writer and lecturer) that love doesn't really exist, and that all anyone wants is "a bit of a shag."

But as the days go by, Joe loses whatever confidence he had in his snarky classroom cynicism and begins to ponder the questions of love and life. Gradually, his relationship with Claire runs off the rails. She can't understand why he won't put the incident behind him; Joe can't understand why the doctor held on.

Feeling increasingly alienated, Claire seeks comfort in the company of their married friends Robin (Bill Nighy) and Rachel (Susan Lynch): a happy couple with lots of babies and toys strewn all over their house. Joe's response is to recede into his shell, which is on the verge of being shattered by the persistent Jed.

Michell's pacing is deliberate and slow as he lets the events of the story circle around Joe like a dance, leaving the man isolated and confused. For some respite, Joe visits the widow of the late doctor and is told that her husband had worked in refugee camps and always leaned toward heroic aspirations. This wounds him even further, for it seems that everyone but him is capable of selfless, enduring love: a concept he had always viewed with disdainful suspicion.

Craig's performance is excellent as the urban, sophisticated man who has suddenly lost sight of what had been anchoring his life -- it's not anything he says or does so much as the way he looks when the camera has him alone, staring into space.

Ultimately, an incident almost on par with the balloon tragedy has a crucial effect on Joe and Claire's relationship.

The lesson here seems to be that for love to endure, there must be some measure of drama or tragedy, and above all, there must be a will to survive.

All that remains is to pray that a balloon with a child in it should not go adrift, or if it does, that this time, Joe could somehow stop it before the damn thing goes up and sails away.

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