There is something about the breakdown of marriage that provides irresistible fodder for filmmakers. In 2019 Netflix produced Marriage Story, which to some provided an argument against the institution of marriage and for “the idea of love.” Which is another way of saying that we do not really know what marriage is, so we take refuge in superficial and sentimental ideas about what “love” is.
I did not really want to watch another story about another marriage breaking down, but sometimes profundity is realized in the midst of the destruction of good things. It is possible to come to truth by undoing falsehood. So I decided to try Hope Gap (2019; streaming on Amazon Prime for free) because of Annette Bening (whose accent is very believable, at least to me) and Bill Nighy. Though at first I felt like it was dipping a bit into melodrama, it pulls back and, if one is patient, the last third has some genuine emotional charge.
It is a different kind of story than Marriage Story because Grace (Bening) and Edward (Nighy) have been married for 29 years. Grace, buoyed by her faith, believes that while they have had their difficulties, there is nothing that they can’t work through. Edward has concluded that they should never have been married, and that he has found the woman who actually cares for him—unlike Grace, whom he believes loves an imaginary version of him.
In some ways it reminded me of the superior 45 Years, because of the way that doubts and difficulties, even after a long time of living together in marriage, can become, in one’s mind at least, insurmountable. Though the focus begins with Edward, the majority of the story is Grace’s, and though she has her own problems and neuroses, she is clearly the one who has been wronged by Edward’s leaving.
What the film does best is show how Grace has been set adrift by Edward’s unexpected announcement. She floats through her house, ignoring mail and dishes, and everything except her son, Jamie (Josh O’Connor). The relationship between Grace and Jamie is what allows her to keep going. And I found the scene where they are talking on the cliff to be affecting, as Jamie tells her that he needs her to keep going so that he can believe there is some hope. It’s a metaphor that is used throughout the film: the parents and the child on the road, with the parents walking ahead and the child following, though never catching up. Jamie tells her that if she goes through hard times and is able to come out on the other side, then he will know that he can face his own challenges in anticipation of finding himself in a better place eventually.
I also found it interesting how the film deals with Grace’s Catholicism, which neither her (ex-) husband nor her son share. Though she appears a little unbalanced at the beginning, including in a sort of naive way about how her son ought to be convinced there is a God, her religion keeps her from throwing her life away by suicide, even though she feels like it sometimes. She says at one point that she counted the number of times in the Mass that “mercy” occurs, and it is something like 19 times. She says it’s almost as if it’s a sort of mantra that convinces you that you might actually need mercy. And more than once in the film, a choral version of the Kyrie Eleison is heard. Whatever Edward thinks, both Jamie and Grace are convinced of their need for some kind of mercy, and they both receive and give it.
It’s a solid film, with an undercurrent of faith (I didn’t realize that the writer/director, William Nicholson, was also behind 2014’s Unbroken and 1993’s Shadowlands, both of which concern Christian faith confronted by suffering; not to mention writing the screenplay for Gladiator and a 1983 film called Martin Luther, Heretic with Jonathan Pryce, which I have never seen and now want to).
I found 45 Years more compelling, but if you’re looking for a little more hope, Hope Gap has just enough.