To many, Brief Encounter may seem like a relic of more proper times--or, specifically, more properly British times--when the pressures of marital decorum and fidelity were perhaps more keenly felt. In truth, David Lean's f... more »ourth film remains a timeless study of true love (or, rather, the promise of it), and the aching desire for intimate connection that is often subdued by the obligations of marriage. And so it is that ordinary Londoners Alec (Trevor Howard), a married doctor, and contented housewife Laura (Celia Johnson) meet by chance one day in a train station, when he volunteers to remove a fleck of ash from her eye (a romantic gesture that, perhaps, inspired Robert Towne's "flaw in the iris" scene in Chinatown). It so happens that their schedules coincide at the train station every Thursday, and their casual attraction grows, through quiet conversation and longing expressions, into the desperate recognition of mutual love. From this point forward, Lean turns this utterly precise, 85-minute film into a bracing study of romantic suspense, leading inevitably, and with the paranoid, furtive glances of a spy thriller, to the moment when this brief encounter must be consummated or abandoned altogether. Decades later, the outcome of this affair--both agonizing and rapturous--is subtle and yet powerful enough to draw tears from the numbest of souls, and spark debate regarding the tragedy or virtue of the choices made. A truly universal film, with meticulously controlled emotions revealed through the flawless performances of Howard and Johnson, and an enduring masterpiece that continued Lean on his course to cinematic greatness. --Jeff Shannon« less
"Master director David Lean's reputation undoubtedly consists mostly of his brilliance with his epic panoramas, such as the classics THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, and A PASSAGE TO INDIA. Of course those who look closely in these films will see that Lean chose only the best actors to flesh out real, true characters caught in the midst of overwhelming events--witness Peter O'Toole's vivid characterization of T. E. Lawrence and Peggy Ashcroft's beautiful, indelible Mrs Moore from A PASSAGE TO INDIA. With BRIEF ENCOUNTER, the actors are everything, too. The story is simple--in a very sad, post-WWII London, two married people meet by chance at a (glorious) train station and begin a friendship which slips quickly into love. The depth of their feelings is never in question, as Trevor Howard and the incandescent Celia Johnson portray these feelings honestly and without pretense, clutter, or the manneredness of modern depicitions of love. Whether the characters will be adulterers or not is important to them; they have principles and do truly care for their existing families. Again, they are two ordinary adults in the midst of something overwhelming; how they handle the situation is what gives them grace and dignity. The use of Rachmaninoff's Concerto no. 2 in C minor, especially the adagio section, was a stroke of genius. One cannot hear the piece ever again without imagining a tear streaming from Miss Johnson's large, soulful blue eyes. Fans of romance, classic cinema, or simply great acting should not miss this experience. The DVD transfer is excellent and Criterion should be applauded again for restoring a vital classic to modern audiences."
A film for grown-ups -- genuinely emotionally overwhelming.
RALPH PETERS | 08/09/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I just read the review of this DVD on dvdmg.com and can only conclude the reviewer is relatively young, and certainly not married -- not for any length of time, anyway. He says, "I could enjoy parts of the film, and I could respect the craftsmanship, but I never could develop any real interest in the storyline or the characters."Oh my goodness, I couldn't disagree more. After intentionally waiting to see "Brief Encounter" for many years, I've finally watched it. I'm a married father in my mid-40's. The incredibly profound affection that Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson express for each other is the most convincing portrayal I have ever seen of two people in love. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have a long way to go to convey such feelings, so powerfully. Yet the performances are, in true British fashion, reserved.Frankly, I found its emotionalism so effective, it very nearly brought me to tears. Call it a chick flick if you like, but this is a film for every thinking adult who has ever been conflicted over their affections and devotions. I'm looking forward to watching it again -- this time with my wife!"
Hasn't dated one bit....
Grigory's Girl | NYC | 07/25/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Critics of this film have said that this film is dated, that the emotions and feelings of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson are "old school", so to speak. They've said that things were different in the 1940's, and that people wouldn't react this way today. That thinking is highly disingenuous and very naive. Trevor and Celia are married, but having an affair with each other, and they have the normal feelings of guilt and shame. Even today, many people who stray have these same feelings. True, back in the 1940's society was less inclined to understand people like this. However, to say that everyone is OK with adultery nowadays is laughable. And there are others' feelings to take into account here. The affair they have makes them feel joy and love, but also shame and sadness. You think about all you've shared with your spouse over the years, and that sleeping with another person makes you feel that you're being a horrible person. The film isn't "hip" by today's standards, where these people would be mercilessly made fun of. These feelings are universal, and they are not likely to go away anytime soon. I doubt that any director today could make a film like this with such great sensitivity such as David Lean. I love Lean's films, mostly the epics. But I love his "smaller" films as well. Lean fans are usually divided over whether his smaller films are better than his epic ones. I think they're both terrific."
Encounter Brief Encounter
Rudy Avila | Lennox, Ca United States | 05/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"1946's Brief Encounter, directed by David Lean (of Doctor Zhivago fame, which he would later direct in 1965) is a great film full of subtlety, romance and melancholia. Shot in black and white, this film is almost a signature of the 40's, as was the more popular and successful Casablanca. Without mention of World War II, this film deals with internal struggles of the heart. Cecila Johnson stars as the romantic heroine, a married woman and Trevor Howard the love interest, a married doctor. Though it's apparent they are disenchanted with their marriages and they are in love with each other, they never fully give in to a passionate affair. It's a romance that is mostly feelings and emotions, furtive glances, sighs, talk and regular meetings that are brief in a train station.David Lean is experimenting with many techniques, particularily intimate angles and interior monologue. No film can ever top his Doctor Zhivago, but this film is at least second best and good for its time in 1946. There is a particularly impressive scene in which the lovers are interrupted and Celia Johnson's character must take a train trip with a very chatty, annoying woman friend. The older woman chatters away and we tap into Celia's thoughts. "I wish she would stop talking.. I wish she were dead" (I thought this was hilarious because we are wishing the same thing by that point)....but then she reprimands herself and comes to the conclusion, after a tiring day, that life does not last, that nothing really lasts forever, neither happiness nor despair. It's very poignant. Another reason besides the great acting and the story itself is the fact that Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, regarded as his finest, is played in this film. The dramatic, romantic storm that is the first movement, followed by a melancholy adagio, is very effective for this type of film."
Purely Thought-Provoking for Even the Puritanical
JON STRICKLAND | Smithfield, NC United States | 12/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Brief Encounter is an emotionally wrenching movie for the viewer who has, at one time or another, experienced personal struggles to contain desires that need not come to the forefront. Among these passions are the perpetual excitement and euphoria that one feels in a relationship to the extent that this association could develop into an extramarital affair.
Highlighting the aforementioned complexities in this highly acclaimed drama are the main characters, Laura Jesson, played by Celia Johnson, and Dr. Alec Harvey, played by Trevor Howard. Laura is portrayed as a housewife married to a man whom she loves but who seems, in many ways to her, cold and distant. Alec is a travelling doctor who is, himself, in a marriage that is not satisfying. Upon a chance encounter at a train station, Laura and Alec quickly develop an affiliation that progresses from two people who merely exchange polite greetings to virtual soul mates. Realizing that there is a magnetic attraction between them, they decide to meet every Thursday to enjoy each other's company, whether it be at the movie theater or at a private stroll in the park.
As the story proceeds, the ties that bind Laura and Alec strengthen and so do the consequential and overwhelming feelings of guilt. One can only sympathize, perhaps empathize, with Laura as she tries to come to terms with how events in her life have transpired. Experiencing heightened levels of contrition for her ever-surmounting affection for Alec, she asks herself how an ordinary woman could become, in so many words, a deceitful creature who now has so much to hide. And as this internal battle of self-condemnation flourishes, she comes to a proverbial fork in the road. She tells herself that since she is married to a good household provider, she has acquired levels of security and comfort that are higher than one could reasonably hope for in a marriage and should be entirely fulfilled. However, as she attempts to convince herself that life is complete with her husband and her children, she cannot drown out the perceived lack of romantic fulfillment in matrimony, and thus her adoration for Alec intensifies.
As the days pass, Laura must decide whether she will maintain further involvement with Alec. Though she has been overjoyed by her get-togethers with Alec and, intermittently, could convince herself that there is nothing wrong with these weekly adventures, Laura, upon each departure to head back home to her family, reflects upon her actions and subsequently acknowledges that these excursions kept secret from her husband should no longer persist.
With the transitions from one scene to the next, as masterfully laid out by David Lean, the movie is, quite arguably, a sexually charged masterpiece. Though there is neither nudity nor bed scene, there are, nonetheless, emotions laid bare to the extent that the viewer can sense the racing heartbeats and the overpowering agonies and ecstacies that simultaneously entrap these two lovers.
In sum, Brief Encounter is a series of emotional rollercoaster encounters. One moment, the communication is, essentially,"We must end this now! Let's not see each other, again!!"; the next, it is along the lines of "I want you, regardless of what God, man, or beast may think!"
Though this movie was produced back in 1945, it has, I think, a message that is for all times and for all age groups. To me, it was conveyed that when you love someone the right way, you should never take that passion for granted, or else, it will erode or be transposed into unsuitable relationships.