The opening shot of The Deep Blue Sea, Terence Davies’ vivid whirlpool of swirling emotion set in post-WWII England, unfolds like a momentary flash of a half-remembered dream. After snaking down a dark London alley and scaling the side of an apartment building in a single take, the camera lingers on a window where Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) peers out onto the street below. Her face is shrouded in shadow, seemingly caught between anticipation and doubt, frozen by some repressed feeling. A smooth dissolve later and the camera hovers on Hester from the reverse angle, now inside the dimly lit apartment looking at her back profile. It’s a ravishing transition that proves to be a microcosm for the rest of the film, Davies relying on the kinetics of cinema to continuously glide around Hester during moments of both sublime ecstasy and wrenching heartache.
Considering the hallucinatory feel of The Deep Blue Sea, it’s not surprising that Hester’s impending suicide attempt moments later has the same kind of ethereal feel. Driven by the increasing insensitivity of her dashing WWII pilot lover, Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), Hester prepares a note, locks the door, and turns on the wall heater. Davies uses long camera takes and an overture of string music to make even the most mundane and sobering moment operatic in nature. Much of The Deep Blue Sea is constructed out of such small details from Hestor’s existence; the way thick smoke drifts across a room, or the striking outline of a figure walking down an ornate corridor. As a result, this is a film of moments, disjointed by narrative standards, but always woven together by a singularly heightened, almost instinctual tone.
The ticking of clocks become a kind of temporal narrator in The Deep Blue Sea, eroding a once hopeful romance by jumping back and forth within the period of a few tumultuous months in Hestor’s life. Unhappily married to an elderly judge of strong social stature, Hestor despises her life of privilege and becomes sexually and emotionally entangled with Freddie. Interestingly, we only see fragments of their rushed courtship, and Davies instead focuses intently on the uneven aspects of the relationship after the initial lust. Hestor’s extreme adoration for Freddie isn’t reciprocated in full, and her submersion into a depressive state is completely horrific, yet ripe with grace and humanity. But that doesn’t mean Hestor’s breakdowns don’t pack a punch, and Weisz is brilliant at juggling a flurry of emotions in a single facial expression.
The Deep Blue Sea handles melodrama unlike any other recent film, giving the dramatic crescendos a certain restraint and the emotional minutia a specific gravitas. Taking this into consideration, Davies’s film feels like a spiritual cousin to Wong Kar-wai’s masterpiece, In the Mood For Love, another swooning, spinning, and slow dancing romance tragedy burning with unrequited love. Late in The Deep Blue Sea, during one of the couple’s final arguments, Freddie laments Hestor’s extreme description of their breakup: “Tragedy is too big a word.” In a way, he’s absolutely right. But that doesn’t make Hestor’s hollowness and disappointment any less poignant, not only for the character herself but those in the audience who’ve felt the same knotted stomach when a once perfect couple ends for good.
The Deep Blue Sea is currently playing at the Landmark La Jolla Village Cinemas