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What a film. Anyone about to get married should watch this film and learn about how bitter and destructive a relationship can become, and try to avoid it. This is a classic case of not-with-nor-without syndrome where an older couple deep in a love-hate relationship seems unable to find any escape. I found watching this film quite difficult actually, almost akin to a horror film, given the intensity of such a tormented relationship. This film is as much a psychological thriller as it is a classic drama wrapped in a tragedy for the ages.
Martha and George are an older couple living in a posh college town where George teaches. Martha's father is the president of the university, which may have been one of the reasons George married her. It's hard to tell what started the relationship, and although we guess there was real love at some point, it seems that years of disappointments and diverging paths have caused this couple to crumble. Martha is loud and somewhat vulgar, whereas George is a typical intellectual, smart, witty, but also a bit stuck up. Most saddening for the character is a feel of lost dreams, novels that never were, and professional achievements that never materialized. One evening, while they are entertaining two young guests, the old couples lashes out at one another and uses the younger couple as a vehicle for passive aggressive attacks. The evening devolves into a somber study of human misery.
Most remarkable in this film are of course the performances. This is essentially a play with two characters at the center portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Not only are they both exceptional actors, but it seems like the film became a prism for their own marital issues and dissolving relationship. Absolutely no one else than the two of them could have injected this film with such strength, authenticity, and malaise all at once. This is a fantastically written play, full of insights into human relationships and psychological games, performed by two people who were essentially deep into those problems themselves in their real lives.
Ultimately, this is what takes this film to the next level. It's a Play on film, but with such insightful material, and such performances, that it's become a landmark. The film's intensity is so undeniable that personally, i watched it like a psychological thriller, with both characters clearly intent on hurting one another deeply. I will not forget this movie any time soon, and recommend it to any newlywed to learn about what they should avoid.
- Laurent Hasson