A mysterious dark shadow hovers completely and constantly over Neil Jordan’s onscreen rendering of the love-triangle novel by Graham Greene. At the same time, the tragic mistress and wife, Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore), her husband Henry (Stephen Rea) and her lover Maurice Bendix (Ralph Feinnes) make the landscape yet another shade darker.
On the rainy streets of wartime London – bombed and still shuddering – Henry and Maurice have a chance meeting. It is two years after the "affair" is over. Henry, a cold, bored, passionless barrister, sits protected by his hat, raincoat and a disturbing level of calm indifference. Maurice, a tormented novelist still obsessed with Sarah, seems wildly deluded and open for disaster.
Through a series of intense flashbacks, their story unfolds. But with page-turning movements from Maurice’s typewriter, The End of the Affair moves more like a novel than a movie. And that is certainly part of its magic.
Sarah’s is a face fit for narrative description: sad eyes, milk-white skin, lips carefully traced in red, etc. Her episodic affair with Maurice is also the stuff of absorbing novels. The two meet in restaurants, sometimes at his place. Dresses fall from shoulders; hair caresses skin; light shines through stained glass windows. The action and imagery possess a beauty that almost seems incomplete without language to describe it.
The feeling of being halfway inside a literary work while watching a movie is a pleasure that is difficult for writers and directors to provide. Throughout Jordan’s filmography (The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire, The Butcher Boy, etc.), the director’s strength is tightly woven contexts. Unfortunately, the tightly woven context in this new movie can’t cover its most visible flaw.
For most of The End of the Affair, the fact that a war is going on is evident. But there is little impact on day-to-day life. There is little mention of the war in conversations, until about midway when suddenly a bombing dramatically alters life for all three main characters. Immediately, the war becomes a primary metaphor for the affair between Sarah and Maurice. It becomes symbolic of love, perception and the human condition. In theory, this works well. But in the movie, it means that several major links between events are missing.
In fact, the entire movie could have been made against a totally different backdrop and it would have worked just as well. By the time the war is revealed as a central source of confusion, as an impetus for many of Sarah’s feelings and perceptions about the world, it seems too late to feel intimidated by it with her. With these characters, the viewer has gone on with life as usual; normality has gone unthreatened.
Aside from this bizarre lack of connection between the war and the movie itself, The End of the Affair is beautifully filmed, superbly acted and wonderfully carried out. Moore plays Sarah with all convincing vulnerability and depth, necessary for us to be receptive to, even convinced by, the stuff of her ongoing inner tragedy and isolation. Because of them, her conversations with Maurice run into moving observations on God, love, jealousy and obsession.
Maurice meets these moments with the misguided conviction and distrust that lead him to hire a private investigator, Parkis (Ian Hart), to spy on his lover. Parkis works with his young son, Lance (Samuel Bould), a quiet obedient child who has a birthmark on his cheek.
In a strange turn of events, Maurice ends up getting reports from his spies that follow his own meetings with Sarah – another twist to add to the already intense intrigue of a remarkable, if slightly flawed, onscreen love story.
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