Plenty of films explore the notion of discovering oneself, but few are so deeply rooted as those by filmmaker Andrew Haigh. From his best-known feature, Weekend, to his television series, Looking, self-discovery is an essential factor that makes his films work, and his latest, 45 Years, is no exception.
On the phone with New Times, Haigh says he doesn’t think there’s any age when we stop trying to confront and change our identities. “From the minute we start to become conscious beings, we’re trying to understand our identity and trying to understand, first of all, who we are and then how we fit into the world around us.”
By focusing on an older couple rather than youthful leads, Haigh tells the story of how even 45 years into a marriage, we never stop discovering new things. In the case of Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) and her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay), Kate is faced with the news that the body of her husband’s former lover has been found after she was missing for decades. The news leads Kate into an introspective state.
Relationships are a perfect way to understand our own identities, Haigh says, “because we’re expressing ourselves to someone else; we want someone else to understand us.
“It’s very easy to show the world who you think the world wants you to be. And I think that’s exactly what Kate is doing. Even in her personal moments, when she’s by herself, she’s still thinking, I want to present to the world and to myself that this is all right, that I’m going to get through this, that our relationship is going to be stable. It’s not going to fall apart,” Haigh says, analyzing his character. “And I think that’s definitely what she’s trying to do… It’s really hard to live authentically in private as well as in public.”
More interesting is the way he compares the narrative to understanding his own identity. “Maybe it has to do with being gay,” he admits. “I think when you’re gay, your identity becomes so much an important part of your life.”
He’s not wrong. Much like Kate spends plenty of time wondering how to present herself to those around her while she feels her marriage crumble, queer individuals often wonder how to present themselves to a primarily heteronormative world.
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These themes run through most of Haigh’s works. “You’re made, I think, when you’re gay, to really think about your identity and about how you then fit that into the world around you. It’s something that’s always interested me, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever stop thinking about it.”
With 45 Years, Haigh eschews his usual gay narrative and embraces a tender story between a married man and woman. The director even admits it was a strange shift for him.
“I started writing the script very soon after I finished Weekend actually, and it really did feel like a kind of bookend story to Weekend. So even though it’s about obviously a straight couple who are older than the couple in Weekend, it felt like a weird companion piece.”
Opens Friday, January 22, at Bill Cosford Cinema (University of Miami Campus, 1111 Memorial Dr., Coral Gables, 305-284-4861, cosfordcinema.com); O Cinema Miami Beach (500 71st St., Miami Beach, 786-207-1919, o-cinema.org); Regal Cinemas South Beach 18 (1120 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach, 305-674-6766, regmovies.com); and Tower Theater, with Spanish subtitles (1508 SW Eighth St., Miami, 305-642-1264, towertheatermiami.com).
Follow Juan Barquin on Twitter.