Brief Encounter


Brief Encounter tells the story of Alec and Laura, two stiff-upper-lip Brits who
are perfect for each other in every way except for already being married to
other people. It’s theme, essentially, is “we never meant for this to happen,”
but while that usually sounds and feels like the hollow bullshit that it is,
Brief Encounter will have you totally onboard and begging for them to go through
with it. We know as they know that their lives and loving families will be
utterly destroyed. We know that the people who will be hurt most do not deserve
it. Laura’s husband is a decent chap whom Laura cares about deeply and with whom
she has two children. He isn’t terribly attentive or perceptive, but this comes
from the easy comfortableness that accompanies a long-term relationship, not
from any neglect or carelessness. We know all of this–and we want them too
This manipulation is no small feat. Infidelity is still generally considered
wrong today, it was unthinkable in 1945. To pull it off, Celia Johnson had to be
perfect, and they had to have chemistry. She is, and they do. But what really
sells it is the depiction of those around them. Everyone apart from Alec and
Laura exist as part of a bizarre fabrication concocted for the sole purpose of
keeping them apart, a sentiment distilled in the final scene into the grotesque
character of Dolly Messiter. The degree to which this strategy works is
commensurate with how much you actually want to kill her with your bare hands in
that final scene.
As much as I hate to admit it, Brief Encounter may not be for everyone. Some
classic movies feel more like “old” movies than others. Brief Encounter feels
very much like an “old” movie, but in the best way possible. Likewise, those
with a low tolerance for melodrama might be put off as well. There’s a reason
it’s been targeted for satire, and if you’ve seen the film, you should definitely
check out the Victoria Wood parody on YouTube. However, of the many reason to
recommend it anyway, none is more convincing than this Kathryn Altman quote from
the Wiki: “One day, years and years ago, just after the war, [Robert Altman] had
nothing to do and he went to a theater in the middle of the afternoon to see a
movie. Not a Hollywood movie: a British movie. He said the main character was
not glamorous, not a babe. And at first he wondered why he was even watching it.
But twenty minutes later he was in tears, and had fallen in love with her. And
it made him feel that it wasn!t just a movie.” The film was Brief Encounter.
This is one I’d take with me to that hypothetical desert island.

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