We have assumptions about older couples. Spending decades together, we assume, means these people know each other inside out. They finish each other’s sentences, they know each other’s favourite songs, but most importantly they both know what the other has been through. It is this last assumption that Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years addresses, and fairly conclusively demolishes in the process.
Geoff and Kate are in the process of organising their forty-fifth wedding anniversary, when Geoff receives a letter from Switzerland. It informs him that his girlfriend, who fell into a fissure in the Alps and disappeared fifty years previously, has been discovered in a glacier. Geoff’s following obsession with this long dead woman creates tension between the married couple, which threatens to derail an otherwise happy anniversary.
Much of 45 Years follows a rather predictable path. Geoff’s obsession with his dead girlfriend alienates his wife. She begins to dig deeper into this past of which she was barely aware, discovering more about her husband’s relationship with this dead woman than she may have cared to know.
The revelations about her husband are shocking to Kate, particularly with the gravity a distance of fifty years holds for these secrets. Geoff explains some of it away by claiming there was never a good time to tell his beautiful new girlfriend about the old dead one. It makes sense, and you can’t help but sympathise with the unfortunate position this couple has been put in by a freak accident of many years ago, and a recent resolution.
But 45 Years reaches a point where the revelations can no longer sustain the story, and at this point it brilliantly changes tack. Kate, unable to cope any longer with her husband’s preoccupation ahead of their anniversary, demands that her husband forget the dead woman so they can continue on with their lives. Surprisingly, he does just that, like the flick of a switch, doting over his wife with real love and passion.
At this point Kate, shocked by her husband’s quick reversion to business-as-usual, becomes incapable of doing likewise. By the film’s conclusion Geoff has found peace with the past, but Kate can’t deal with her husband’s unnaturally quick change of heart. How can her husband change his emotions so readily? What kind of person is he that his emotions can be switched off by will power alone?
Marvellously paced, and pursuing a truly original concept, 45 Years calmly and chillingly captures the realisation of some of the worst worries a person can have about their relationship. Through its main players, the film shows with masterful clarity, that despite the endurance of that old adage, there are some wounds time can’t heal.
In cinemas 28 August 2015. Watch the trailer now.