Starring Julianne Moore – Part 2

Following on from last week’s post, four more Moore films that I’ve watched “recently”:-

Far from Heaven (2002)

This film takes a look at the dark side of the whole Happy Days phenomenon, with JM as housewife Cathy Whitaker, whose idyllic life starts to fall apart at the first sign of strange behaviour from husband Frank (Dennis Quaid). Subsequently she learns that he is a homosexual, engaging in relationships with men that he meets at gay bars, and after various attempts to repair their relationship fail, Cathy turns to black man Raymond (Dennis Haysbert) for consolation. The result is that both Cathy and Raymond are ostracised from their respective communities. At the end, Frank moves in with another man, and Raymond takes off with his daughter for another part of the country. Cathy is left behind with nothing except a bad reputation and the shattered remnants of all her fondest hopes and dreams. The fresh Day-Glo colours in which the film is shot contrast strongly with the dark mood of the story. There are no bad guys as such, with society itself the villain of the piece, because it insists that everyone fit into a preconfigured template. Yes, Frank acts badly, indulging in promiscuity, violence, and alcoholism, but all these are the result of suppressing his true nature to satisfy unreasonable social demands. Cathy is an innocent fool of sorts, thinking that love will be accepted, and falling in love with the wrong man each time, one whose nature makes him incapable of returning her affection, and another whom society will never allow her to be with. There are consequences, and at the end the bitter irony is that Raymond departs for a new life, while Frank makes a new life for himself with a man he loves, but Cathy is left behind, made a pariah and social outcast through no fault of her own. There are three “persecuted” groups here – coloured people, gay people, and women, and while there are support networks for the first two, for the woman in the mix there is nothing except the judgement of her peers. Happy days are here again.

A Single Man (2009)

This film is pretty much a one man show for Colin Firth as gay man George, a professor of English living in 1960’s LA. Unable to cope after the death of his lover Jim in a car accident, George decides to commit suicide, and we follow him through the last day of his life, as he puts his affairs in order and replays the past in his mind. JM plays best friend Charley, who tries to cheer him up, but ultimately fails due to her own depression (she loves George and can’t really understand why he doesn’t feel the same way about her, why he preferred Jim). It’s an excellent cameo from Moore, but all the same only second, or possibly third, or even fourth fiddle to Firth’s commanding performance. The film explores depression with a light, non-preachy touch, and we can see why George feels so bereft even though outwardly he appears to have almost everything necessary for a good life, the difficulties attendant upon being a gay man in a largely unsympathetic society. At the same time the film gives him reasons to carry on, to embrace what life has left to offer. My only real complaint was that the ending seemed a little bit like a cheat, one that wasn’t sufficiently telegraphed by the body of the narrative.

A Map of the World (1999)

Again JM has a supporting role, with Sigourney Weaver starring as school nurse Alice and Moore playing best friend Theresa. Alice and her husband, with their two daughters, seem like the idyllic family, respected members of the community of which they are a part. But when Theresa’s daughter dies in a tragic accident on Alice’s property the two best friends are alienated. Then things take a turn for the worse as Alice is accused of child abuse by the parents of a pupil at the school where she works. This is a character driven film, and while we sympathise with Alice for constantly trying to do the right thing there is also the recognition that some of her problems are the result of this trait, that she can be seen as stubborn by others and insist on matters of principle and telling the truth even when it costs her. She is her own harshest judge when she falls short of the standards she sets for herself; an admirable person certainly, but perhaps not an easy one to live with. For Moore as Theresa, there is the burden not only of a terrible loss, but also that the person she would normally turn to for support in such a moment of crisis is in part responsible for what has occurred, and for some what different reasons the same is true for Alice. Assuredly, with compassion and tenderness, the film explores what happens when people’s lives are torn apart by circumstance, whether it is possible to move on from such tragic events and put the pieces of broken relationships back together again. It’s a wise story, one that makes allowance for the flaws in our nature, and finds us worthy in spite, or possibly because, of them, and I loved every little thing about it.

The End of the Affair (1999)

Made immediately after Map, or at least released immediately after, this film was directed by Neil Jordan and based on a Graham Greene novel. It’s set in 1946 Britain, and Julianne Moore stars as Sarah, married to civil servant Henry (Stephen Rea) and resisting the advances of novelist Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes), with whom she had an affair during the war, one that she broke off for unknown reasons. There are more complications, with past and present interweaving as the story unfolds, and the intervention of a private detective, but the real gist of the story lies in the fact that there are four characters in this relationship, not three. And the fourth is God, whose imagined demands dictate much of the deeply religious Sarah’s behaviour. A novel that Bendrix is writing, described as “a diary of hate”, is a framing device of sorts for the film, one through which the writer’s own relationship to the deity is explored. Beautifully nuanced and with a convincing period feel, the film examines our attitudes to love and fidelity, and how the religious impulse can complicate such matters. The passion between the two leads sizzles when they are on screen together, so that we can believe wholly in a love that will brook no resistance, but also one that will tear them apart as it undermines the things they hold most dear and which define them. Moore was Oscar nominated for her role, and deservedly so. If the film has a weak link, for me it’s that the ways in which the characters are led to filter their experience through a religious sensibility all seem to have a little too much of the deus ex machina about them, but to say more would be to risk spoilers. That quibble aside, I found the film fascinating and compelling, and it also helped me, as an atheist, understand something of the moral quandaries that religious people can face courtesy of their belief in that old spirit in the sky.

So, anyone else have a favourite Julianne Moore film?

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