45 Years is a film that takes place over the course of one week culminating in Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate Mercer’s (Charlotte Rampling) 45th Anniversary. This film was directed and written by Andrew Haigh, who’s known for his film Weekend, and HBO’s Looking. Kate Mercer and her husband are getting ready to celebrate when a letter arrives that changes not only the rest of their lives, but also retroactively changes certain decisions they made in their past.
In the letter Geoff receives, he’s told that the body of an old girlfriend has been found preserved in the ice of the Swiss Alps. It’s clear from Kate’s reaction (or lack of) that the news is an issue that hasn’t been fully discussed prior. She tries to stay calm and collected and let the shock of the news fall away, but Geoff is shaken to the core now that Katia has been found.
Within their moments together, their glances and touches, we feel that they’ve been together all those 45 years. We can feel it as they walk near one another. It adds to one of the many layers in how real everything feels; it’s entirely natural. As we meet the couple days before their anniversary, we’re unsure of who they are, and so it’s unclear if Geoff has always been stuck in the past. Yet, once the letter arrives, he begins casually bringing up Katia and revealing more things that Kate had never heard before. Every time he brings up Katia, it’s new information that slowly chips away at the relationship he and Kate built together, as Kate is hurt and confused by each reveal. In a way, Haigh paints us a picture of the relationship, of which we only see a part, until he slowly pulls back and reveals layer upon layer until we see the full picture; one where Kate may have started in the foreground of Geoff’s heart, but is lost further in the background.
There are moments of undeniable sweetness and love, and while it’s entirely endearing, the scenes are often found next to scenes of tension. Their personal conflict is one you can feel in the air around them. It’s like a tightly strung guitar, it’s not a question of if, but when the string will break. Since the film is so naturalistic and minimalist, you get a sense of being in the room with them as the string gets pulled tighter.
In 45 Years, Haigh asks the question of whether you can truly know someone. It’s a question often asked to oneself when you find someone. A question hidden in that momentary bliss of getting to know someone and wondering about all the things that they don’t mention.
With each new bit of information learned or gathered, Kate begins to change how she views their relationship. It’s clear in Rampling’s subtle and exquisite (and now Oscar nominated) performance, that it’s something she can’t stop thinking about, from its inception through all 45 years. Up to the final scene, it has a hold on her and won’t let go. It haunts her. It haunts her the same way that the ghost from his past haunts them, in how Katia hides in the corners of the decisions that they’ve made, no matter how small or big the decisions were. Kate is aware that Katia was there for it all.