It’s a shame that the most interesting element of The Deep Blue Sea is the same thing that makes it so miserably mediocre. A love affair told out of sequence, the film hops from the first meeting to the sweeping throes of passion to the bitter fights. The result is a cast of characters who come across as schizophrenic. They’re ever shifting, hard to pin down and never quite come into their own.
Terence Davies adaptation of the play is filled with broad movements, often cutting out the foreplay to get to what he perceives to be the meat of the relationship. The problem is without the foreplay it’s hard to get any sense of progression and evolution to these characters, and it’s even harder to care about them. The film seems desperate to elicit sympathy from from the audience.
Scenes linger on the frantic anguish of Rachel Weisz experiencing heartbreak and the film goes out of its way to revisit Simon Russell Beale’s character (her husband) later in the film. It’s Tom Hiddleston who gets the short end of the stick. He initially comes across as charming but quickly becomes the world’s most angry Brit, frothing at the mouth as he screams insults. The film never does the groundwork to make any of these progressions meaningful. They happen, they feel like beats of many a romance film, but never like beats of this particular film.
All this is placed against the backdrop of suffocating puritanical sensibilities. Weisz declares she’s in love, that she’s found a passion that makes her alive, but all authority declares that she’s a fool, that there’s a much more sensible and grounded view of love, that she should return to her husband. It’s unclear where the film falls on this issue. Is Weisz right? Does this passion bring her to life and help her escape the trap of her stifling and distant husband? Or is she foolishly pursuing something that will only harm her?
Further compounding this problem is the film’s conclusion. An attempt to end the film on a note that encompasses the wider world, it’s tonally and thematically inconsistent with the primary focus on the film’s core love triangle. This leads to the most deadly of questions: so what? There are moments of passion, both soft and intimate and coarse and obscene. Emotions fly, but it fails to be either moving or thought-provoking.
Some will scoff at the comparison, but there are clear parallels to the indie darling 500 Days of Summer. The far less “artistic” and “cinematic” film is a lot better at having all the qualities The Deep Blue Sea lacks. It jumps through time, but uses the inconsistencies of the characters as a way to question how passion clouds ones perception of the person they love and the film feels like it actually has some interesting thoughts to provoke about the whole affair. In contrast, The Deep Blue Sea flounders in a series of pretty images that amount to a husk of a film.
© 2012 James Blake Ewing