Alright, so maybe I’m being glib or pompous to say that you’ve never heard of this film. However, in my experience, unless you’re a film historian or classic film junkie, you haven’t. First things first; the title of this 1945 film is Brief Encounter, not to be confused with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I don’t know why I find myself correcting people on that so often, but just to be clear; they are two very different films.
I first became introduced to this film in my late teens. My dad told me that when he first saw it, in his early 20s, he didn’t appreciate it. However, he thought that given that I was female (how sexist can you get?) that I might be different. So, we watched it and thus began one of the most powerful movie watching experiences I’ve ever had. The movie was so well done and so poignant (even today!) that I found myself thinking about the movie long after it was over.
The film stars Celia Johnson as a British housewife and mother who happens to have a chance meeting with a Doctor played by Trevor Howard while at a train station one day.
Both of them have spouses who are not at all evil. They have children. They have lives. And yet, they can’t help their feelings for one another. Celia Johnson’s voiceover lets us in to her private thoughts and feelings. In film, when there is an affair, there tends to be stereotypes. The people cheating are often vilified. This film sets to explore the reasons behind their actions in an adult way.
The film was directed by David Lean, whose credits include such epics as Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia. Brief Encounter is not an epic, but he makes it feel like one. It’s a small story about two people. The film is quiet, but powerful. Much of that comes from the script which was adapted from Noel Coward’s one act play, Still Life.
I love this movie so much because it’s understated, intimate and sincere. You feel like you’re going through everything with them. The score of the film, Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, along with the beautiful, haunting black & white cinematography lift this film to epic status.
This is not a happy movie. In fact, it’s particularly depressing. But, it feels real and takes you on an emotional journey. Also, it gave us some of the best lines in film…ever (IMHO).
Also, little known fact: Billy Wilder, the famed writer and director, saw the film and got caught up thinking about the guy who owns the apartment, so caught up that he made a film about it with Jack Lemmon called The Apartment.
Vintage trailer below.