“Another Year” (2010). Cast: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wight, David Bradley, Martin Savage, Karina Fernandez, Michele Austin, Imelda Staunton. Director: Mike Leigh. Screenplay: Mike Leigh. www.sonyclassics.com/anotheryear/
For better or worse, we all have our limits in various areas of our lives. We might not always like to admit that we have them, either, perhaps seeing them as selfish or uncharitable. But boundaries do have their place, even in the bonds we develop with others, as evidenced in the gentle new drama, “Another Year.”
Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) live a happy, fulfilling life. As an aging middle class London couple, they’ve managed to forge rewarding careers (he as a geologist, she as a counselor), raise a bright, successful son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), and, above all, stay madly in love after many years of marriage. They approach life with an optimistic but practical outlook that affords them much happiness and active engagement with the lives they’ve made for themselves, both individually and collectively. One could say they’re contentment personified.
In fact, Tom and Gerri have been so successful in creating such fulfillment that they freely share their abundant blessings with others who have been less fortunate at creating the same in their lives, such as Tom’s brother Ronnie (David Bradley) and their longtime friend Ken (Peter Wight). But the person who receives the lion’s share of their attention is Gerri’s friend and co-worker Mary (Lesley Manville), an often-spacey, somewhat boozy, middle-aged clerical who spends much of her time lost. Mary desperately looks for happiness in all the wrong places and invariably seeks to shift blame elsewhere when things don’t pan out as hoped for, behaviors that make her increasingly embittered, and pitiable, as time passes. But, despite their tremendous capacities for compassion, empathy and understanding, even Tom and Gerri have their limits, and as Mary pushes those boundaries, their friendship gets stretched and strained, threatening the very existence of their relationship. Over time it becomes apparent that something has to change if the friendship is to survive.
As physical beings, we’re innately accustomed to living life in a reality where nearly all of its elements—like us—have defined physical parameters. Those inherent boundaries give shape, definition and limitation to everything we encounter within this existence. But, strange though it may seem to some of us, boundaries are not limited to just the physical aspects of our world; they also provide limits to things of a nonphysical nature, like our emotions and the frameworks of our interpersonal relationships. However, given our almost dogmatic preoccupation with physicality, most of us are no doubt less familiar with the boundaries associated with our reality’s nonphysical components, not only in terms of establishing them but of even recognizing their existence. Consequently, it can be quite easy for borders to be crossed that shouldn’t be, creating havoc and mayhem, even in situations where we thought we knew where things stood, ultimately yielding emotional pain, suffering and heartache.
Those who are skilled in recognizing and setting such parameters realize their necessity. Even though those boundaries may not apply to items of a physical nature, their existence provides buffers against unwanted intrusions by those who, wittingly or unwittingly, would disregard elements of another’s personal sovereignty. Indeed, poet Robert Frost probably said it best when he wrote in his poem Mending Wall that “good fences makes good neighbors,” sound advice that applies whether the boundaries in question are physical or otherwise.
Those who are effective at establishing these kinds of limits are undoubtedly effective conscious creation/law of attraction practitioners, for they recognize that definition is an intrinsic part of the materialization process, no matter what canvas of existence they create upon. And it’s also quite understandable that those who are skilled at this might eventually lose patience with, or even grow resentful of, others who are unable—or unwilling—to respect those boundaries when limits are reached.
So it is with Tom and Gerri in their relationship with Mary when she starts to cross lines that are off limits. Ultimately she fails to respect the healthy borders that define the nature of her relationship with her friends and their family. This is most apparent when Mary meets Joe’s girlfriend, Katie (Karina Fernandez), for the first time. Mary, who had long had an unrealistic crush on the young man, becomes unabashedly snippy with everyone after being introduced to Katie, clearly angering those who had been so giving to her for so long, even when they didn’t always need to be. Mary fails to realize that Tom and Gerri’s tremendous compassion and generosity of spirit in dealing with her doesn’t automatically give her the right to trample all over them as a means to help her solve her problems—problems, by the way, that, by their nature, are of her own creating, based on the conscious creation beliefs she holds.
These circumstances, in turn, speak to another of the film’s major themes, the idea that we’re each ultimately responsible for creating our own happiness. While it’s true that others may come along to help us out in a pinch, such assistance doesn’t intrinsically equate to a license to lean on those compassionate souls completely for helping us attain fulfillment in life. In the end, it ultimately comes down to each of us to find our way to happiness.
It’s indeed sad that there are so many lost souls in the world who experience this these days, and their ranks are amply represented in this film by the likes of Mary, Ken and Ronnie, as well as one of Gerri’s patients, Janet (Imelda Staunton), who appears at the picture’s beginning and sets the tone for this theme. They sit idly by, watching yet “another year” pass without any resolution to their unrelenting despair, all the while hoping that something will miraculously alleviate their sadness and grant them new lives. By doing so, however, they miss the point that it’s up to them, and not some outside savior, to create that result. Those who fail to realize this, and who try to milk salvation out of others who, in the end, are not directly responsible for creating their contentment, will pay an even greater price for such ignorance and irresponsibility.
“Another Year” is a thoughtful, introspective piece of filmmaking. Some may find the pacing a bit slow at times, an argument I wouldn’t totally disagree with, but its character-driven nature nevertheless manages to keep viewers’ attention quite effectively. The writing is subtle (perhaps even a little too understated at times) but substantive, attributes that helped earn it an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay. The performances are all solid, too, especially Manville, who’s very convincing as the troubled lost soul, a portrayal that, sadly, has been largely glossed over by most of this year’s movie awards competitions.
The ties that bind us can also be their undoing, especially when the limits of those bonds are breached. Expecting too much out of others to help us achieve happiness and fulfillment in life can easily become the source of that undoing, so respecting those boundaries is crucial for maintaining those connections in the first place. Failure to do so may result in long-lasting disappointment and irreparable harm, damage that, without proper remediation, can easily last for years to come.
Copyright © 2011, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.