Film: Another Year (2010)
Writer/Director: Mike Leigh
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Leslie Manville, Ruth Sheen
?For you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness . . .?
1 Thessalonians 5:5
Among the most precious scenes in this film are the ones that show husband and wife Tom and Gerri working their little allotment of gardening space, adding compost to the raised beds, planting seedlings, and sitting together drinking tea in a little shed as they wait out the rain.
Then there’s their house, whose refreshingly mishmash decor could not possibly have been staged. Filled with old odds and ends, It’s cozy and welcoming, bright with warmth and fun.
The blessedness of Tom and Gerri’s marriage is a bit of an anomaly in the movies (with the exception of some of Leigh’s other films, notably Life is Sweet); the surprise element elevates the status of their union from the mundane to the mythic, and they end up looking like the Greek gods Hemera (Day) and Aether (Light).
Their relationship seems effortless; they fall quite naturally into a series of words and gestures which affirm, uplift, and instruct each other and by extension those around them. Their mutual love lights up every room in which they appear together. But the effectiveness of Tom and Gerri’s unconditional positive regard is often wasted on the pilgrims who come their way.
There’s the intensely neurotic Mary, for example, who works as a secretary in the clinic where Gerri practices as a counselling psychologist. Mary is a portrait of the process of alienation, adoring and grasping at Tom and Gerri as she slowly sinks into her own emotional maelstrom, overburdened by the anger and pain she refuses to release.
Abandoned by the men she loved, Mary is having a hard time growing older. She is intensely lonely and frustrated, but her manic flirting embarrasses everyone but herself. In a desperate effort to cling to life and to Tom and Gerri, she causes a great deal of awkwardness by hitting on their son Joe. She’s openly disappointed and rude when Joe brings home a fiancée.
It’s as if Mary wishes to be parented by Tom and Gerri, not just befriended, and union with their son seems the most desirable way of accomplishing this. When this doesn’t work out she sets her cap for Ronnie, Tom’s brother. But despite Mary’s Herculean efforts she remains an outsider to the enchanted circle and can’t seem to figure out why.
There is a pointlessness in her striving which is very similar to the religious struggles of those who would appease a God whom they see as angry and vengeful, but who turns out to be easygoing, tolerant, and forgiving.
And She’s not the only unhappy person in Tom and Gerri’s life. There’s their slovenly friend Ken, who bemoans the fact that young people are now making him feel old and out of place in the pubs he once loved to frequent. There’s Tom’s brother Ronnie, a grey man in a grey suit in a grey apartment, someone who has spent his whole life unemployed and supported by his exhausted wife.
Together Tom and Gerri comprise a deity that balances judgment with mercy, practicality with high ideals, acceptance with boundaries. She tempers his quick and hilarious (but sometimes callous) judgments while he curbs her tendencies to bare her neck to the emotional vampires that flock to her.
Mike Leigh is a master of setting the tone of a scene with simple touches: a doctor’s office, a depressed middle-aged woman, a brown hand, a patient manner, and a pregnant belly together conspire to make it clear (but not blatantly so) that this film is about life and death addressing each other and negotiating a kind of harmony.
On the surface the story doesn’t appear to resolve itself tidily. However, there is something on Mary’s face at the end of the movie that suggests that for her change is both necessary and inevitable?and asks if She’s ready.
Another Year manifests ten of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence; 2) it stimulates my mind; 3) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; 4) it is about attainment of the true self; 5) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 6) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 7) it gives me tools which help me be a better artist; 8) it gives me tools enabling me to respond with compassion and efficacy to the suffering around me; 9) it is authentic, original, and delightful; and 10) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity.