The Deep Blue Sea
Weepy Mawkishness & Cigarettes
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston
Review written by Robert Patrick
The slow build of that not-so-esoteric and maudlin violin. Sweeping, diving, floating like a miserable buoy in a lost sea. The instrument has cannibalized itself by working almost too well. So esteemed is the petite and stringed headrest that its high-pitched cry is pined for in cinematic sequences of devastation and loss. The little instrument that could is perpetually lampooned (ever have someone play “the world’s smallest violin” for you with their snarky fingers?). If you’re a sucker for slushy sentimentality, you may find yourself massaging your tear ducts in director Terrence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea*, a film so inundated with squealing violins that you may imagine yourself in a symphony hall from hell.
Set during an unspecified date in the 1950s, The Deep Blue Sea follows the insufferable Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), a woman so downtrodden that her life is a virtual still life painting of incurable despondency. More often than not, Hester ashamedly wears her decisions with humiliation, as if they were a dunce cap. Her crackling, unaffected wit and steely disposition is enough to make George Patton look softer than a loofah sponge. At her side is her husband, the affable Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale). A forlorn high court judge with a dapper shell, William is an elder statesman of kindness, but is entirely daft in the ways of romance. Hester often treats him with inherent frustration; the sight of him beckons images of a well meaning but ultimately disoriented puppy. Emotions are further obscured when Hester hitches infidelity to her resume of dubious decisions. Plagued by regret and fermenting unhappiness, this contentious and scabrous reaction to her thorny marriage isn’t written in shorthand as her affair lasts for months. When her reoccurring trysts are found out by her husband, the story gets exponentially more heated and dizzying, much like tumbling laundry in a community dryer.
Hester’s newest beau is the mercurial Freddie Page (Tom Middleston), a veteran of world war II whose life has been stoned with barbed memories of the war. Because Freddie is handsomely afflicted with problems, the emotionally emaciated Hester clings to him with unhinged alacrity. The Deep Blue Sea bathes itself in claustrophobic melancholia. Everything is saturated with venom and uncertainty. Nothing, not even the touch of a hand, is benign in this film. Being that this is a biopsy of a wilted heart, it’s easy to understand Terrence Davies’ need for the film to do as much brooding and bloodletting as possible. But often more times than not this expose of the human condition feels stuffy, lifeless, and meandering; The Deep Blue Sea is the film equivalent of a taxidermied animal.
Taking a page out of Slyvia Plath’s playbook, Hester is infused with a sort of crippled wanderlust. She imbibes inertia but craves the extraordinary. This is a grandiose mosaic of guilt. Fine. But as a movie – and first as a play – Davies’ script reeks of pretension and plasticity. The wonky, animated portrayal of Freddie’s post traumatic stress disorder is more of a caricature of the affliction than it is a reflection of the actual symptoms. The dialogue in the film siphons the air from its hosts it’s so droll and unequivocally turgid. There is too much existential smoking (is this Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie?). There are too many stilted lines being expunged from fiery personalities (damning words being emitted from maimed lips actually sounds interesting but is entirely contrary). Terrence Davies has managed to make an opus that curtsies boredom and undervalues genuine emotion. Congratulations.
*Author’s footnote: This Deep Blue Sea is not the shark lunging, CGI courting action film that hosts a parrot-wearing LL Cool J.