“Those memories—they’re things, aren’t they?”
Memories can be the things that keep people together or tear them apart. In 45 Years, a couple about to celebrate a milestone anniversary suddenly have memories brought up that threaten their future happiness.
Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) are planning a celebration for the 45th anniversary. They know each other so well. They have been together so long that we would think they have no secrets. Kate even knows the books that Geoff has started but never finished (like his books by Kierkegaard). But one day a letter arrives from Switzerland. They have found the body of Geoff’s girlfriend prior to Kate who fell into a crevasse when she and Geoff were vacationing. Kate had known about the accident, but as Geoff becomes more and more affected by this news (he even begins smoking again), Kate begins to discover things about that relationship she never knew and those revelations push her into a bout of jealousy. As their anniversary draws nearer and Kate is busy with all the details of their party, the two are actually drifting farther and farther apart.
I have to admit that I think Kate may be overreacting a bit. After all, this is something that happened before the two of them ever met. Perhaps Geoff should have told her a bit more about that relationship, but it was so long ago it barely matters now. However, Geoff’s melancholy at the news of Katya’s body being found is so profound that it seems right that Kate might be taken aback. We never really learn all the issues within their relationship through the years that are triggered by this news. But then, we never really know what long buried problems will reemerge in new ways.
It may seem surprising that a relationship that has lasted so long can still be so fragile. But even though we may think we know someone because of the history we share, there may well be issues that have stayed hidden for long periods. When the specter of Katya comes into Geoff’s life anew, it brings up feelings for both Geoff and Kate that could have been simmering unrecognized for all these years: regrets, unfulfilled wishes, insecurities. We get the sense that just as Katya fell into a fissure, so too has the Mercers’ marriage. Even the plant life around their home (in its winter dormancy) reflects that they have entered a season of decline, perhaps even an end.
When the anniversary party finally arrives, it is a time of great celebration. But what does it mean for Geoff and Kate? Can they cover the grief and insecurities that have grown in their lives the last few days? Is this a chance to begin again? Is it the beginning of the end? We are reminded just how frail marriage can be.
Photos courtesy IFC Films