The Passionate Friends (1949)
Director: David Lean
Writer: Eric Ambler, Stanley Haynes, David lean, and H.G. Wells
Cinematographer: Guy Green
by Jon Cvack
I’ve never even heard of The Passionate Friends and yet I’d say it’s equally as good as David Lean's Brief Encounter, serving as a kind of unofficial sequel (think Van Sant's Finding Forrest to Good Will Hunting, except equally as good). The movie involves two individuals, Steven and Mary (Trevor Hodd and Ann Todd), who had a hot brief encounter nine years earlier. The pair had drifted apart into their own relationships, with Mary getting together with a successful businessman, Howard (Claude Rains). During a vacation, Mary meets Steven and the two resume their passionate affair. Eventually Howard finds out, attempts to end it all, which works out fine until Mary sees Steven again, getting together for an innocent lunch, starting up the affair all over again, with Howard discovering in one of the film's most brilliant sequences and later leaving. Overwhelmed with despair, Mary races off to the train station to kill herself. Howard saves her.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is about David Lean’s love stories that make them so powerful. There is a humanity within each and every character. Lean allows us to feel their love, experience their loss, and share their passion. He demonstrates that there are times when it’s possible to feel disparate attractions to multiple people. There is passion and there is love, and Mary is overwhelmed by this very conflict. Beneath the complexity of cheating is the very simple fact that Mary feels for the two men differently, and if the world was perfect she’d be able to share them both. Howard doesn’t provide the passion she desires. He expects to build toward love, allowing it to grow, while also accepting that security and stability sacrifice the passion the partner might otherwise experience.
On the other hand, Steven couldn’t provide any of those things. The passion might exist, except against a backdrop of insecurity. Essentially the film argues that freedom doesn’t work well in a passionate relationship, as Mary is enslaved to her passions. Such relationships are overwhelming as the partner becomes the entire focus and life revolves around an individual and their ability to make you happy, rather than your own. We’ve all had love-at-first-sight moments, some actualized and others a fleeing fantasy.
That’s why I kind of enjoy the ending when Howard comes to her rescue. It was a way to demonstrate that passion doesn’t need to be the foundation of a relationship. Love grows. It can ebb and flow, and it’s about enjoying the highs and not worrying all too much about the lows. The Passionate Friend - such an interesting title, and in the end that’s all Steven and Mary were. A marriage is about construction and sacrifice, elements that Steven could never have provided.
BELOW: The film's absolutely phenomenal concluding sequence
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