Author Topic: Another Year  (Read 4357 times)

Sandy

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Another Year
« on: November 27, 2012, 08:36:13 PM »

oldkid, I agree on Another Year. It gets my vote.

Yes, they are truly a deceptively maniacal pair.

Totoro, I'm sorry you feel that way. As I recall, you weren't happy with the way they treat their friends. I don't think I'll be able to convince you that they are actually quite compassionate in their interactions with others as they both accept and set limits, but putting that aside for a minute, there's something else going on that's equally fascinating. By shared experiences, interests and temperaments, Tom and Gerri created a type of shorthand that can be seen in their looks and body language, the way they work alongside each other, their touch. They both go out and knock about in the real world, but their world together is their own personal haven, which they protect, rightfully so. Success like that should be celebrated and if possible emulated, not begrudged.

My friend's reading on the film;

So, here’s my reading of the film. Basically, I saw this as a harsh indictment on the privileged class—specifically in their callous treatment of the people suffering from loneliness around them. By “callous,” I mean that they realize that people like Mary and Ken—who are supposedly friends—are suffering, but then this suffering doesn’t seem to penetrate their own sense of well-being; it doesn’t prick their conscience and compel them to do something for these people. Well, that’s not entirely correct, either. For one thing, there is a scene where Gerri expresses some level of guilt (I believe; this happens in bedroom scene early in the film) towards having such a good life while Mary has such a lonely and hard one. But then Tom quickly dismisses this sense and Mary follows suit.

To be fair, Tom and Gerri are quite decent and kind to Mary and Ken—inviting them regularly to their homes. They’re perfectly friendly, hospitable and even generous to them. At the same time, I can’t help but feel a little horrified at the way they treat both Ken and Mary. (Here’s where I suspect I’m projecting.) On one hand, Tom and Gerri are very genial and friendly, but there is also a lack of compassion and sensitivity; they’re a bit too dismissive of the problems of their friends, a bit too pat in the advice they give. This makes their genial nature all the more reprehensible or at least disturbing. Also, if I were in Tom and Gerri’s position, I’d feel compelled to do something more to alleviate their loneliness, and if I didn’t I’d feel a little more guilty. (Then again, maybe not: maybe I am just as insensitive and uncaring.)

Imo, Ken and Mary’s suffering—from loneliness—is excruciating and heart-breaking. And so, even though Tom and Gerri are nice, I feel like they’re not so nice at all. And I feel like the film is a kind of excoriation on the people like this.

The final shot seems to hit this home. We see the happy conversation around them as the camera moves around in a circle until we see Mary, who is clearly suffering. Her friends are basically torturing her. And then the as the camera settles on Mary, the sound goes out, as if to say no one is really listening to her.


oldkid, I agree on Another Year. It gets my vote.

Yes, they are truly a deceptively maniacal pair.

Totoro, I'm sorry you feel that way. As I recall, you weren't happy with the way they treat their friends. I don't think I'll be able to convince you that they are actually quite compassionate in their interactions with others as they both accept and set limits, but putting that aside for a minute, there's something else going on that's equally fascinating. By shared experiences, interests and temperaments, Tom and Gerri created a type of shorthand that can be seen in their looks and body language, the way they work alongside each other, their touch. They both go out and knock about in the real world, but their world together is their own personal haven, which they protect, rightfully so. Success like that should be celebrated and if possible emulated, not begrudged.

Yes, but no. When Mary has a real serious problem at the end of the film, they completely abandon her. They only help her when helping her services themselves, when it makes them feel good. So, they are complete hypocrites to their friends, undeserving of them. It is their space, yes, but they act like good, happy people to embrace their loner friends, so it isn't outside of Mary's reason of understanding that they would be upset if she showed up at their place. Except they aren't.

Still a good couple, even if they are evil. :)

Thanks for writing back. First, since everyone comes at a movie with a unique view, I wouldn't expect to change you and your friend's take on what you saw. I only wish to address some of the points you brought out through my unique viewpoint, so that even though we might not agree, we'll at least be clear on why we each feel the way we do.

I have to say, I got lost at "harsh indictment on the privileged class." Don't Gerri and Mary work in the same building and are work friends? Class warfare is a heavy mantel to arbitrarily place on a couple that by the look of things work hard at jobs that truly help their communities and who live in a modest home. I don't see a sense of entitlement in their circumstances. If we could strip that perceived negative burden off of them, there are some other things to consider. The friendships with Mary and Ken have been long term ones. If I look past what is on screen, I would surmise that with all of Gerri's skills at counseling people, she has tried many things over the years to help her friends out. She's learned though that nothing she does is really going to change the characteristics of Mary and Ken, so puts herself in the position of sounding board. The most telling thing to me is that Tom and Gerry are the only constant in Mary and Ken's lives. Everyone else has systematically been pushed away. I see that as real compassion on Tom and Gerry's part. There's no reciprocity, so all their efforts have been and will be all give. That's a pretty uneven way to maintain friendships.
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oldkid

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Re: Another Year
« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2012, 01:08:26 AM »
I have to say that this discussion is very personal to me.  I see my wife and I very much being like Tom and Geri.  We are educated and relatively balanced emotionally, but we choose to hang out and live with people who are struggling with everyday life.  We do what we can to help, and often that is all too little.  We also recognize that we have a balance to play out with our family, and we take privileges that our friends often don't have.

Do we really have friendships with them?  Do we keep these people around just to make us feel better?  I think the answers are more complex than a simple yes or no, just like the movie.

Ken and Mary seek the couple out because there is a stability there that they desire, and perhaps they seek the secret of what they are lacking in their lives.  Or perhaps they are just drawing on the stability of the relationship.  Geri felt that Mary had taken advantage of their openness at one point, but these things happen.  The fact is, they all needed each other.  They have different priorities, different goals in life, but that's what makes them community.  They all help each other and they are all needy in some way. 

If the relationships are dysfunctional, which I would contest, whose fault is it really?  Mary's, for seeking the companionship of a stable couple?  T and G's for allowing Mary to think that the relationship was more equivalent than it was, really?  Or T and G's for leading Mary on?  No, this isn't a dysfunctional relationship.  It's just a different one, a sometimes awkward one, one that explores territory that no one has explored, and so draws lines that seem artificial or unnatural. 

Perhaps what was unnatural was the relationship itself.  Does that make it bad?  Should people like Mary stay with "her own kind"?  Because to have relationships between people of different classes (which this movie does not demonstrate), or different emotional resiliency, or different social abilities-- this kind of conflict is common in such relationships.  And sometimes people apologize, and sometimes people forgive, and sometimes people forget about it, and sometimes they don't. 

It's life.
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Re: Another Year
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2012, 04:56:48 AM »
Oh God.


This is going to be an epic conversation... when I have the time to really commit.


verbALs

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Re: Another Year
« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2012, 06:11:22 AM »
It puts me in mind of the scene in The Best Years of our Lives when Myrna Loy talks about all the time the two have spent hating each other. This couple in AY represent another pair who have survived all of those bumps and scrapes and stayed together. Usually the reasons for staying with someone are for reasons other than perfect compatability because bringing up a family is more important for example.  It's a very interesting discussion chiefly because movies don't focus on fulfilled older couples very often. However they seem blissfully happy because they have survived relationship problems not in spite of it.

It's then difficult/ impossible to explain these things properly to their friends who haven't had the same experiences. They may more likely feel like fish out of water in the world of older single people and unable to help more.
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Lobby

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Re: Another Year
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2012, 07:22:31 AM »
I think it says something about the quality of the movie when I get upset on behalf of Tom and Gerri for the crap they get.

Compared to all people I know, including me, they're amazing people, who generously invite people who are less fortunate than they are to their lives, giving them shelter and support without getting anything back. There is a limit to how much a person can do without being dragged down yourself. They're old and wise enough to identify that line and keep it. And that's how they can keep being that support for others in the long term.

I think it's a wonderful example of what a long-time marriage can be in best case.
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MartinTeller

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Re: Another Year
« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2012, 09:42:40 AM »
I'm not trying to make a "you're too young and inexperienced to understand" argument, but I think younger people have a very different expectation of what "friendship" is.  When you're young, especially if you're unattached, your friends are practically your whole life.  Totoro seems to think that Tom and Gerri should be bending over backwards to help out their friends, because after all, what are friends for? 

It just doesn't work like that when you're older, you have a spouse to take care of, you have a career, you treasure security and stability in your life.  Friends are there for companionship and moral support, not to rescue you.  If T&J are "a bit too dismissive of the problems of their friends, a bit too pat in the advice they give" then that's because they've probably been down that road a hundred times.  At some point you realize that people are who they are and you can't save them from themselves. 

mañana

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Re: Another Year
« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2012, 10:55:08 AM »
For me a great strength of the film was the complexity in which these relationships are drawn; I certainly don’t think Tom and Gerri are callous, nor do I see them as saintly as they might first appear. They are generous with their home and time, however I do think there’s an undercurrent of condescension and judgment. Further to that, as frustrating as Mary may be, I sensed a degree of satisfaction in how dependant she was on them. At the same time, and I think Sandy spoke to this, Gerri is largely the giver in this relationship and Mary the taker.

Totoro, you charge them with abandoning Mary, that’s not consistent with my memory at all. Though I agree with you that Tom and Gerri derive some satisfaction as the "guardians" of this social network, something I was a little uneasy with myself, I wonder if you’re not being unrealistic about what a friend can really do for another friend.

I think calling it an indictment on the privileged class would be overstating it for sure, however the hierarchy within these relationships is reflected in their societal positions. Sandy, you suggest that this hierarchy isn’t present when you point out that Gerri and Mary work in the same building, however one is an educated professional married to a geologist and the other is a receptionist. Also, particularly within that real estate market, I wouldn’t call G&T’s place a modest home. And does Mary live in council housing, or is my memory just fabricating that to buttress my point?  :)   

In other words, I don’t think these relationships can be defined as any one thing, which is what makes the film interesting, in my mind. Shades of grey, and all that.

I’ve ignored Ken in this post, I guess because Mary has stayed with me more.
« Last Edit: November 28, 2012, 10:58:24 AM by mañana »
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MP

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Re: Another Year
« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2012, 10:57:09 AM »
Only saw this once upon initial release, so any thoughts are from memory. I don't think Leigh (who unethically credits himself as scriptwriter) has an argument per se - much less an interest in excoriating a particular breed of people. (I think the film's chief strength is its observation of plausible human interaction - there's something deeply enthralling about it, because it's rarely ever present in cinema - what we normally get is the cinematic impression of interaction, which I'm not necessarily against; I think it's normalised and accepted at this point, but whatever - that's another argument.)

There appears to be something worth delving into here, though - hence the film's dramatic power - but I don't think it's an indictment of a petit bourgeois couple whose domestic contentment is their own business. Are we meant to begrudge Tom and Gerri their success and happiness? Why should we? Is their social status directly linked to Mary's, i.e., have they directly exploited Mary in order to get where they are, and is Mary's own relative instability a direct result of said exploitation? Though there'll no doubt be social factors at work here, I think on the vidence the film gives us (which is all we have to go on), the answer to this question is "no". Mary's continued invitation to and attendance at Tom and Gerri's home is in spite of their social statuses. I don't think any character here is meant to stand in for the class to which they belong; the film isn't some preposterous allegory on "middle-class guilt" like Caché, for instance.

Part of the film's strength is its portrayal of an undeniably heartbreaking loneliness and depression - made all the more challenging to watch because it's the white elephant in the room. Are Gerri and Tom to patronise Mary, their friend, by extending and voicing sympathy/concern to her? Wouldn't doing so beget a hostile/defensive/violent reaction from her? After all, Mary shows little indication of actively seeking help; her instinctive mechanism is to get drunk (that isn't a judgement, btw). Who are we to tell someone they "need help"? Mary's behaviour is "edgy", sure, but walking on eggshells would, in my view - on the evidence the film gives us - ultimately exacerbate her anxieties. She's already a bag of nerves, and at an age where being so is socially (and therefore domestically) unacceptable.

Mary clearly seeks Gerri's respect and approbation; but as I recall, Gerri chooses not to exploit this, even though she's clearly aware of it. If on the contrary she did exploit Mary's "need" to be mothered, I think she'd be an awfully stifling friend - the sort of smothering mother figure we might ordinarily expect of an artistic depiction of a middle-class woman (with her own neuroses, etc.). Speaking of which, Mary's mental instability and subsequent loneliness - or, just as crucially, her fundamental feeling of loneliness and therefore subsequent instability - may possibly be a result of her upbringing: her relationship with her mother, her actual or perceived abandonment, the crippling pressures of never-satisfied parental expectations... All of which would be accountable to her formative domestic upbringing, which would itself be socially accounted for.

I dunno, I'm just speculating in the absence of actual evidence in the film - which is why I'd point out the film's necessary limitations.

Is Mary the direct responsibility of Tom and Gerri? And if so, is it Gerri and Tom's responsibility to remind her of this? I would argue no on both accounts. You might argue there's a social responsibility to Mary and "people like her", but the film, as I said, would need a wider conceptualisation of events to point us toward any answers as to how. (I would recommend David Mercer and Ken Loach's two films, In Two Minds (1967) and Family Life (1971), as dramatic accounts of a stifling domestic life and the extent to which it might beget someone like Lesley Manville's Mary.)

I wrote elsewhere on the film's depiction of human relationships, suggesting it would need a wider framework if it were to reconceptualise its material and account socially/historically for its characters' predicament.

Quote
The sentiments written about Archipelago – “tiny nuances of gesture and oblique conversation by which we, the British middle classes, negotiate our way through life, smothering unpleasantness in the process” – reminded me of one of my favourite films of 2010, Mike Leigh’s Another Year. Leigh’s film doesn’t necessarily “do” anything with its characters, much less account for them in class terms, but it does stand out for its emotional authenticity and committed performances, which give it an emotional charge even when nothing is happening. Sometimes, it’s encouraging to simply view on screen characters interacting convincingly with one another.

It’s encouraging, that is, but for lasting profundity, maybe it’s not enough. Another Year is one of those “observational” dramas that places its characters in an everyday setting and then watches their situation unfold. But it never genuinely challenges this situation; it seems more content to present it – not without complexity – and then allow the viewer to ponder any questions that might arise from it.

This point is key: though those viewers with an explicit interest in class and its artistic representations may well find in Another Year issues to discuss, Leigh’s film doesn’t ask any questions itself. It’s a brilliant portrayal of a certain group of people – and if you’ve ever spent time in the company of people like Mary, Tom, Joe and Gerri, you’ll know what I mean – but its fundamental aims limit what it can tell us about their existence. That is to say, of course, “it’s brilliant as it stands, but to be even better…”

Another Year would have to be a different film entirely to address further concerns; and Mike Leigh is not incapable of making such a work.
« Last Edit: November 28, 2012, 11:37:18 AM by MP »

mañana

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Re: Another Year
« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2012, 11:03:00 AM »
Great post, MP. I wish I had read it last year when the film was still fresh in my mind.  :)
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Sandy

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Re: Another Year
« Reply #9 on: November 28, 2012, 02:22:45 PM »
I'm swimming with the big fish, and I like it. Just don't swallow me for lunch. :)


These are words I especially love (I would copy and paste everything for that statement to be wholly true, but that would be redundant.)


Imo, Ken and Mary’s suffering—from loneliness—is excruciating and heart-breaking.

I am completely with you on this.

If the relationships are dysfunctional, which I would contest, whose fault is it really?  Mary's, for seeking the companionship of a stable couple?  T and G's for allowing Mary to think that the relationship was more equivalent than it was, really?  Or T and G's for leading Mary on?  No, this isn't a dysfunctional relationship.  It's just a different one, a sometimes awkward one, one that explores territory that no one has explored, and so draws lines that seem artificial or unnatural. 


Usually the reasons for staying with someone are for reasons other than perfect compatibility because bringing up a family is more important for example.  It's a very interesting discussion chiefly because movies don't focus on fulfilled older couples very often. However they seem blissfully happy because they have survived relationship problems not in spite of it.

I think you are absolutely right, whereas I oversimplified it.


There is a limit to how much a person can do without being dragged down yourself. They're old and wise enough to identify that line and keep it. And that's how they can keep being that support for others in the long term.

If T&J are "a bit too dismissive of the problems of their friends, a bit too pat in the advice they give" then that's because they've probably been down that road a hundred times.  At some point you realize that people are who they are and you can't save them from themselves.

For me a great strength of the film was the complexity in which these relationships are drawn; I certainly don’t think Tom and Gerri are callous, nor do I see them as saintly as they might first appear.

I think calling it an indictment on the privileged class would be overstating it for sure, however the hierarchy within these relationships is reflected in their societal positions. Sandy, you suggest that this hierarchy isn’t present when you point out that Gerri and Mary work in the same building, however one is an educated professional married to a geologist and the other is a receptionist. Also, particularly within that real estate market, I wouldn’t call G&T’s place a modest home. And does Mary live in council housing, or is my memory just fabricating that to buttress my point?  :)   

Yes, my points aren't great for the case I was making, :) for there is a divide. I just found it strange that Totoro's friend was using Tom and Gerri's successes as an automatic negative reflection of their characters. I agree with you also that they're not saints, though I could learn a thing or two from them. :)

(I think the film's chief strength is its observation of plausible human interaction - there's something deeply enthralling about it, because it's rarely ever present in cinema.

!

Quote
Part of the film's strength is its portrayal of an undeniably heartbreaking loneliness and depression - made all the more challenging to watch because it's the white elephant in the room

And those words bring it full circle back to the beginning.
"Don't be shy. You learn to fly and see the sun when day is done. If only you see."