Brief Encounter (1945)
Directed by David Lean
May 12 the Film Society of Lincoln Center's "Coward on Film"
Brief Encounter is immortal, the kind of film you watched before you saw it the first time because you'd imagined it. David Lean's British film, adapted from Noël Coward's one-act play Still Life, takes as its center a maybe-love affair, in which two people spend as much time as they can together in person. All told, it isn't that much—some time out in town, a trip to the cinema, a tea. But it seems like much more because there's another heard-but-not-seen film running alongside it, inside the constant head of the married woman (Celia Johnson), adulterous in thought, imagining in breathless voiceover everything that she and her possible lover could be. He's a stiff, slim doctor (Trevor Howard) with a strong sense of the moment, knows what's proper and improper in public. Her large eyes look towards him, and her face's flesh seems to rise. "No, no, I don't want that time to come ever," she thinks. "I want to remember every minute, always, always to the end of my days."
They're sitting at a table at the train station. "We've still got a few minutes," he says, and then they're interrupted; a loud woman, an acquaintance, but still basically a stranger, sits at their table and starts chattering away. There's no way that she knows what they mean to each other—how could she?—and he stands up. There's been a terrible possibility floating quietly throughout the film, which is that two peoples' mutual belief isn't mutual at all: They might not mean the same to each other, each one's thoughts might be different from the other's, and that might be the real, deeper reason that they'll end up alone. We don't know what he thinks, just what she hopes he thinks. Time is passing, life changing. Then he softly places his hand on her shoulder, which here at this time can mean nothing, or worlds.