Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Take This Waltz...It's Been Dying for Years

Early in Sarah Polley's second feature, Daniel (Luke Kirby) says to Margot (Michelle Williams), "You seem restless...in a kind of permanent way."  It's the film's theme.  And it's the human condition.

Polley's first feature, Away from Her (2006), was about a woman with Alzheimer's (Julie Christie) who recollects her husband's infidelity on their way to a nursing home for her, and who later commits adultery with a fellow resident, but she's unaware (as far as we know) that she's doing so.  Take This Waltz practically announces that it's going to court the concept of adultery with its Nova Scotia opening and the public flogging of the adulterer in an historical reenactment.  But the film's not that simplistic.  Nor is the extended opening simply a heavy-handed meeting cute of our leads.

Margot is afraid of flight connections, afraid of wondering if she'll miss one, afraid of being afraid.  She's inexorably drawn to Daniel, whom fate seems to be forcing her into "colliding" with, but she's also deeply ambivalent about it.  Five years into an affectionate but passionless/childless marriage characterized by joking and baby talk, she makes attempts to reengage her husband Lou (Seth Rogen), but he's preoccupied with perfecting his chicken cacciatore recipe for his poultry-centric cookbook.  Sarah Silverman plays Margot's sister-in-law, a recovered alcoholic who functions as a kind of Greek chorus of one for the film.  "Life has a gap in it--it just does.  You don't go crazy trying to fill it with some crazy lunatic...."  But even the wise sister-in-law, post a sobriety celebration, dramatically falls off the wagon.  And so, despite her ambivalence, Margot agrees to drinks with Daniel.  (Warning:  spoilers ahead!)

"I want to know what you'd do to me," Margot finally admits to him.  Daniel obliges, falling into his own reverie.

"And then I thought to myself," Daniel says, "I need to find out how she works.  How every part of her works.  And I spent about a week and a half with your body.  And I began to learn it.  And know it.  Every detail of it...."  While he's speaking, the camera is close on Michelle Williams' face.  The subtlety of her reactions, the exquisite anguish in her visage, represents an astonishing performance.  And the scene is, well, worth the price of the movie, even if you like nothing else about it.  When Daniel finishes, Margot, at a loss, remarks of their untouched drinks, "So, these martinis."  His response:  "They're redundant, I think."

In his song "Take This Waltz," Leonard Cohen sings, "I want you...on a chair with a dead magazine/In a hallway where love's never been."  It's filled with references to love, lust, frost, death, sorrow.  In the gym shower room in the movie, the younger women segregate themselves from their middle-aged counterparts; they know they will be on the other side soon enough. The bed of Passion devolves into the comfortable familiarity of TV on the couch.  Margot resignedly making muffins is reprised, but it looks a lot more like Daniel in the kitchen the second time. "Video Killed the Radio Star" is the real theme of the movie, played twice in the film over the carnival ride scene.   It was the debut video on MTV in August 1981, but as one commentator noted, "now even MTV doesn't show videos anymore...It's the jersey shore junk."

There will always be some "orgiastic future," some green light, something new or other or shiny that we yearn for.   Some "gap" we want to fill, no matter how comfortable or pleasant our lives.  It's part of being human.  For which, like love, there ain't no cure.  

Polley's film is currently in theaters and is also available On Demand.  Check out the trailer:

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