It’s a tranquil day in the English countryside. A man and a woman are settling themselves on a picnic blanket, getting ready to uncork some Champagne and spend a quiet afternoon among the gently rolling hills and deep-green fields. Appearing out of nowhere, a brightly colored hot-air balloon is scraping its basket behind the now-bewildered couple. A man is furiously struggling with one of the balloon’s ropes, running after the airship that still contains a frightened young boy. The picnicking man leaves the Champagne unopened as he races to gain control of the balloon. Others join him, all grabbing the basket before a stiff wind lifts them all above the idyllic English field and straight toward the heavens. One by one they are forced to let go of the basket, plummeting back to earth at dangerous speed. One man bravely hangs on after the others have given up, waiting too long to safely return to terra firma. Gravity ultimately has its way with him, and those who survived this freak accident witness the gruesome aftermath of his bravery.
This comprises one of the most daringly original and wholly bizarre first acts in film that I’ve ever seen. One could only hope that the remainder of Enduring Love would be half as jaw-dropping as its opening, but barring a few intriguing insights into the nature of love and obsession, the film never matches the brash originality of the opening 10 minutes.
Based on a novel by Ian McEwan, Enduring Love focuses on the repercussions of the accident on Joe (Daniel Craig) and his live-in girlfriend Claire (Samantha Morton), the picnicking couple. Joe is a college professor, always expounding that love is a simple biological mechanism that ensures the continuation of the human race. Claire, an artist, seems to suffer little for Joe’s unromantic view, and they both live that comfortable life shared by artists and professors in the movies — hip dinner parties with hip friends in a hip apartment.
Although Joe does his best to forget about the unfortunate happenings that interrupted his picnic that fateful day, he’s still nagged by guilty thoughts that he too easily sweeps under the rug. That is, until one of the most subtly creepy dudes in all of filmdom shows up, Jed (Rhys Ifans), one of the men who attempted to stop the balloon. Initially, Jed just seems like a lonely born-again Christian who’s having a hard time dealing with the accident and turns to Joe for a little conversation and support. However, it soon becomes apparent that Jed is one messed-up Englishman, and poor Joe is about to suffer a far greater punishment than dying in that horrible accident. Although Joe tries to lose his lanky, scraggly haired persecutor, Jed has no intention of bowing out gracefully.
Enduring Love, although blessed with a fantastic opening sequence and a host of complex characters, soon falls victim to a kind of pseudo-intellectual cat and mouse game that wearily reiterates the movie’s theme ad nauseum, and broadcasts the ending halfway through the picture. Still, Enduring Love manages some taut and creepy moments, while bringing up a few cogent points on the various incarnations of “love.”
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111).
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].