Enduring Love - Roger Michell (2004)
Enduring Love is a paradigmatically creepy drama about the aftermath of an ill-fated balloon trip and a fated-obsessional link between apparent strangers. A disturbing ordeal I found completely absorbing. Part of its genius lies in the ambiguity of Jed's (Rhys Ifans) fixation: is it religious or homo-erotic? Only a spiritual dimension could endow the obsessor with such single-minded conviction. Yet all lovers are 'divinely mad,' to speak with Socrates. Religious devotion is as fervent as romantic obsession is ardent. To love a cult figure, an office all religious authorities come to hold by dint of the reverence in which they are held, is, when two males are involved, homosexual idealization minus the sex.
I've always felt that love stories make the best horror films, and Enduring Love could serve as exhibit number one. Von Trier's Breaking the Waves and Claude Mann's under-appreciated The Best Way to Walk (1976) that veritably defines the category of the homo-horror film, also qualify. Given the fight-flight and paranoid proclivities of the male psyche, homosexual longings are especially fertile ground for a genre that trades in trembling. Anyone who has endured the stress and strain of romantic obsession won't fail to be alarmed by the desperation of Jed's delusional desire. Along with fear, I felt a vicarious guilt that his true-believer dream would inevitably be frustrated; his ardent faith meeting not just with repudiation but virulent and increasingly violent expressions of disgust. Indifference is the opposite of interest, and disgust of desire.
What makes the element of disgust in Joe's rejection horrific is that unwanted desire of between males tends to be experienced as a betrayal of friendship in the absence of homoerotic capacity (or conceivably: a homoerotic responsiveness that has been transcended). I didn't have the sense that Joe was the type of man who demonizes homosexual desire, but he does grow increasingly panicked by the sheer undauntedness of Jed's pursuit. His obssessive stalking, the other magnitude thematized by Mitchell's adaptation, amounts to a veritable possession as disquieting in its intensity as Joe's self-protective spurning. Calling it demonic would be no exaggeration. Satan was, after all, a spurned angel. The adversary of the divine Will as tempter intent on seduction.
Jed personifies renegade passion, desire run amok and sowing chaos. What makes him so fascinating as a character is that he is at once a victim and a perpetrator, a guilty innocent. He has the righteousness and missionary zeal of the true believer certain of his destiny, but also his distorting hubris. In the trance of his all-consuming passion, he's lost the ability to second-guess his perceptions of reality. He just knows, and in this too resembles the man of faith.
If that isn't the stuff of nightmares, I don't know what is.
A few quirky framings draw attention to themselves, but overall the film just flows quite effortlessly, building to its masterfully horrific denouement. On one level I wanted that desperate ploy of a kiss to have genuine shared meaning; to establish a connection over-coming fear. To effect some kind of redemption for our suffering, delusional madman. At the same time I suspected things would not end well. Dread and hope faced-off for a brief and terrifying moment. Perhaps a miracle would occur, exceptionally? Alas not. The lover remains a monster. Love does not [spoiler alert] against all odds, wind up conquering fear. But it's to Michell's credit to have made it feel, however fleetingly, like a real possibility.