Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Deja Vu

I could not get my blue-ray of Shaolin (the movie I started to watch two nights ago) to work. Concerning! So, on a whim, I decided to rewatch this old favorite. I'm not big on romance movies, but Deja Vu overcame all my objections to the genre the first time I saw it at the (sadly gone) Fine Arts theatre in Chicago.

No spoilers! Deja Vu is a love story through and through, but it's really about how we make big choices in life. The story concerns a woman named Dana who's in a lukewarm, comfortable engagement. While in Jerusalem on business, she crosses paths with an older woman who relates a fascinating, but sad, tale of how decades ago she met the love of her life but that they did not act on their immediate awareness of their connection. She hands Dana a ruby pin her long-lost love had made for her. After they part, Dana realizes she still has the woman's pin. She tries to locate the woman in Paris without success and ends up - on a whim - in Dover. There she meets a stranger (Sean) with whom she has an instant, unexplainable, and overpowering attraction. Like the woman Dana met, she knows Sean is the love of her life. Even odder, he feels the exact same way about her. The rest of the movie is about how Dana and Sean decide whether to give into this amazing connection or to remain in their comfortable lives.

I was swept into and off with this movie in a way that rarely happens anymore, largely thanks to the absolutely phenomenal acting. I also enjoyed the cinema verite approach, where the actors seem to be improvising their rather deep conversations about life and love, passed up chances, and lost connections. One of the other strengths of the movie is that the story does not obsess about the attraction between the two leads. Are they or aren't they in love? Does he want her as much as she want him? All that neurotic nonsense is bypassed as the film quickly establishes the love is real and reciprocated. This leaves the movie to focus on the implications of acting on such emotions. Through the conversations the characters have with each other, we see relationships that represent the warmth and happiness of long-term commitment and others that embody the freedom and adventure of following the moment. The downsides of both lifestyles are also presented.

And there are no easy answers. This isn't a movie about cutesy Reese Witherspoon who just don't realize she's in love with a douchebag when sweet little Luke/Owen Wilson is right there in front of her (or vice versa with some other himbo and American sweetheart of the moment). Dana and Sean are not the 'good guys' stuck in lives with obviously bad partners. They are in committed adult lives, and it's easy to see why they like those lives and people. However, it's clear that those lives fall woefully short of the connection they have found with each other.

This is the most powerful choice the writers/director made in Deja Vu: there is no easy answers here...and, more importantly, no guarantees. This creates a great deal of suspense, because there is no feeling from the movie that if Dana and Sean end up together that they must be happy or that they will not regret the choice. The film certainly sets us up to want these two characters to be together, but this is because we are caught up in the romance and connection that seem to be pushing them together. Jaglom and his wife (and lead actress) wrote this film to never give us any sense of security. Deja Vu promises no 'happy ever after'; there is a choice to be made and no guarantees that what the characters choose will outweigh what they must give up by choosing it. The only certain thing is that whatever choice they make will affect them for the rest of their lives. Even at the very end of the movie, when Dana has a conversation with her father (such conversations usually providing the audience with permission to expect a 'happy ever after'), his last words to her are charged with double meaning.

Aside from the fantastic story, acting, and direction (be prepared to look past some rough editing likely necessitated by the cinema verite approach), Deja Vu appeals to me because the characters are all very intelligent, successful people who are past their twenties. These are adults: established, with deep connections to the people in their lives, a firm sense of themselves, and solid direction. This exponentially increases the gravity of Dana and Sean's choice and the risks they run by 'jumping into life'. This isn't about the right prom date or 'do I get the guy/girl'. This about being faced with the pain and excitement of a life-altering experience, and having to decide whether to embrace or reject it.

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