As a woman gazes outside her window, we see the window panes confining her in. It’s a common image in The Deep Blue Sea that underscores the tremendous sense of isolation and loneliness of its main character. Adapted from Terence Rattigan’s stage play, The Deep Blue Sea accomplishes the impressive feat of nullifying my preconceived notions of stage to film adaptations. The picture adheres to a specific cinematic grammar that relies on silence for emotional punctuation. While melodramatic in design, the film doesn’t have any particular sweeping crescendos to queue audiences in on how to react (outside a few misplaced musical arrangements). Instead, with Terence Davis’ impressive control and Rachel Weisz’s bold performance, The Deep Blue Sea works as a very elegant and precise display of emotional restraint.
What registers immediately upon viewing the picture is Davis’ impressive visual approach. With most of the imagery viewed through a soft-focus, Davis paints a very dreamlike atmosphere. It’s appropriate, given its initial narrative structure. Hester (Rachel Weisz) survives a suicide attempt, only to sit in her dingy flat, smoking a cigarette, as she reflects on the incidents that led her here. The room fills with smoke as the hazy atmosphere takes shape. The key thematic element to The Deep Blue Sea is an understanding that the social and emotional conditions of love rarely take on a concrete form. The soft focus that Davis places on his characters and venues is meant to establish their fragility.
The social context behind The Deep Blue Sea is particularly enlightening, as it provides a deeper understanding of where these characters are coming from. Taking place in London during the 1950s, there are various references to the war. The London cityscape still contains rubble. And most of all, the man that Hester falls in love with seems to be lost in the memories of a time before the war. This yearning for a nostalgic past is crucial in understanding the motivations of the central characters, but also serves to punctuate a sense of yearning on behalf of the director himself. This being my first Davis film, I can appreciate his directorial presence, wherein I truly felt his own commitment to the material.
As much as I admired the formal technique applied by Davis, I wasn’t too taken by the initial framing device that provoked many of the flashbacks through the film. It makes it difficult to appreciate some of the more traditional aspects of the film when it’s sweeping through time without much restraint. Based on the first act alone, I thought the picture was heading in a much different direction, as it seemed to recall something like Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad. But it eventually rejects its fragmentary narrative format for something more traditional. Despite my reservations behind its structuring, The Deep Blue Sea has piqued my interest in exploring Terence Davis’ work.