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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Psychotherapy Blog: Movies: "45 Years": An Old Secret Haunts a Loving Long-Term Marriage

In the movie, 45 Years, an old secret, which is suddenly thrust upon them, haunts an older married couple, who were, seemingly, happily married for many years (for 45 years, hence, the name of the movie).  They face the emotional challenge, both alone and together, that could ruin their relationship.

An Old Secret Haunts a Loving Long-Term Marriage*

Until this old secret surfaces, the couple, Kate and Geoff Mercer (portrayed beautifully by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtnay) seem to have an ordinary, serene life in their retirement in the beautiful English countryside.

Suddenly, their world is upended by a letter that Geoff receives about a deceased girlfriend, Katya, who died during a mountaineering accident when Katya and Geoff were very young, and whose body was just found intact in a glacier after all of these years.

Geoff's short-lived romantic relationship with Katya preceded his relationship with Kate, and he told Kate about it many years before.

But as he starts to ruminate about Katya and he sinks into a depressed state about this old loss, Kate begins to realize that he never revealed to her how important that past relationship was to him.  They never talked much about it, and the news about finding Katya's body is now threatening their marriage.

It haunts both Geoff and Kate in different ways.

For Geoff, the power of memory has overtaken him.  He can't sleep.  He starts smoking again.  He is preoccupied and lost in thought about his short, youthful romance with Katya.  He wants to immerse himself in pictures and mementos of her.  When he speaks about his old romance to Kate, he calls Katya "my Katya."

Initially, Kate comforts herself by telling herself that Geoff's youthful romance with Katya was very brief and a long time ago, especially compared to the many years that he and Kate have been married.  After all, Kate and Geoff have had a whole lifetime together, and it's been a good life.

She reasons to herself:  A brief romance from many years ago with a woman who is long dead can't compete with their 45 year marriage.

And, yet, it does in ways that gradually unfold in this movie.

Kate makes her own secret discoveries into Geoff's past romantic attachment to Katya.

As Kate becomes more aware of the effect of this old romance, she wonders how she can compete with the memory of an attractive, young lover who is deceased, but who is still very much alive in Geoff's memory.

Over the course of only one week, with the backdrop of Kate planning a big party for their 45th wedding anniversary, it gradually dawns on Kate that all of her assumptions about her husband and their marriage might be wrong:
  • How does Geoff really feel about Kate and their marriage?
  • How well does she understand Geoff's romantic history with Katya? 
  • Has Geoff been secretly harboring unspoken feelings for Katya all along throughout their long marriage? 
  • How can she be jealous of a ghost from the past?
  • Would Geoff still have married her if Katya was still alive?
  • Now that these secrets have come to light, what does all of this mean for their marriage?
  • What is the truth about about their marriage?
Far from being melodramatic, 45 Years, is a the story of a very ordinary couple and the devastating effects of time and memory, which can change everything.  This is what makes it so haunting:  It could happen to anyone.

Without giving too much away, the expression on Kate's face, which is so dissonant from the all the revelry around her at the anniversary party, says it all.

Time seems to stand still for Kate and her expression tells us everything there is to know about how she feels and her dawning emotional awareness.

But there are no easy answers for this couple--just as there are no easy answers for any couple faced with this emotional dilemma.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about it, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

*The couple in this picture are not from the movie.  The picture is from Shutterstock.

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