19 Mar 2012

The English Weather, the English Repression, and the Unique English Sorrow: Weekend (2011) and Adele

Indeed, living in London for a while does not make one English enough to comment on Englishness, nor does it efface the stereotyped concept of Englishness, and the truth is being a foreigner there, this stereotype is perceived way stronger than that absorption of Englishness through varied forms of entertainment while residing in the hometown. Although the actual lived experience in that surroundings of Englishness injects something real into that mental image, once one leaves that surroundings, the mystic functioning of the memory twists the real experience, making it even more unreal and vague, and thus going beyond the stereotype, becoming a pure imagination of Englishness that calls itself memory.

So this memory of Englishness is only something very private and untrue, and it is pretty much a false image, a fantasy, particularly in the eyes of the English, but it is this false image that allows Adele’s voice to produce a strange emotional resonance that links with that slight but beautiful depression in Weekend (2011, directed and written by Andrew Haigh), which triggers memories of other quite irrelevant real experiences that somehow reinforces this mental imagination of Englishness.

Weekend (2011)

Gloomy weather, repression, and the light sorrow constitute this mental image of Englishness, which is first developed after seeing the film A Room with a View (1985) and then is strengthened in the reading of this novel by E. M. Foster. The fine misty rain falling from the gray sky is a symbol of that light sorrow that can only come into being through a very subtle mental struggle and repression, which is most obviously manifested in love and self-control. This imagination of a gloomy and repressed lifestyle is once again intensified in the most recent TV series Downton Abbey (2010 – present), a genre play of the high society in the early twentieth century.

But such a mental struggle is not a privilege of the high society, and Weekend projects this agonizing self-control along with that feeble wish to break through through two young middle-class gay men in the twentieth-first century. The truth is such a projection of mental struggles is universal, and it should happen to anyone regardless nationality and cultural upbringing, but due to the temporal-spatial setting of the film, memory directs mind towards that imagination of Englishness, which blurs the reality with fantasy, making the mental construction truer than ever. As a result, the sorrow of those young men – though not completely without hope and faith for the future – represents a unique English dilemma that gay men faces in the contemporary English society. It seems illogical if the temporal-spatial setting is made American, or, say, Taiwanese, since the background does not offer that gray, gloomy ambience which makes the exaggeration of mental struggles available.

It is interesting that such an exaggeration of human sorrow can be achieved without images, and Adele’s smoky and emotional voice sings not only regret and lamentation, but also fortitude – through her special tone that encourages those who mourn their loss and saves them from the over-indulgence in sadness – which is also the characteristic of those tragic heroes or heroines in English films or TV series. Once again, that should be a universal human nature, but due to that strong mental image of Englishness, the display of one’s inner strength and self-control is associated with the English. Even though one is so deeply dwelling in that unbearable sorrow without not having tried to ignore it, as projected in Weekend the departing of lovers who are almost strangers to each other and their knowing of each other through self-confrontations, the repression for self-control never allows a total breakdown of the mentality. As seen in this film, this self-control miraculously directs them to hold on to that feeble wish that they themselves have already known so well that it might not be achieved. Although they can never be together, at least they know they have found each other, they both have rediscovered their self, and life can still be beautiful because they are left with beautiful memories.

This complicated mental process allows them to stand in the brink of self-destruction without truly destroying the self, and therefore, these two young men are both the combination of extreme sadness and positive faith for the future. It is fortitude that keeps the balance of this bipolar relation. This unique feature is sung by Adele in her Someone Like You (2011), and her tone and attitude makes her a perfect representation of fortitude, and her Englishness makes this universal fortitude so English. This Englishness is best projected in her version of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love (1997 [2008]); rather than being manly and caring, the English love is repressed, well-controlled, and even lonely, a love that can never come into being without a long process of self-struggles, or a love that can be completely sacrificial even though it is utterly unattainable, as the one projected in Weekend. This self-control is celebrated in One and Only (2011) through which she advises that mental struggle can only be conquered by the self, and one must be bold and keep the faith for oneself if the final paradise of happiness should be reached. Her encouragement points to that English nature of repression, which should not be seen as a total rejection of life but an inevitable sorrow that would make the final success sweeter than ever.

How interesting it is that these three songs all connect with the plot of Weekend even though the film has not incorporated any of these songs. One and Only interprets the emotional change of both characters in this short-lived weekend love. After they grow fonder of each other and intend to know each other more, Make You Feel My Love is represented through their constant self-confrontation and arguments. When the lovers are doomed to that inevitable separation, Someone like you becomes the perfect footnote to their mood and their hope for a better future, even though that sorrow has perpetually stained the heart.

Probably no others can project this gloomy sorrow better than the English. Although French films normally give something way more miserable than this English sorrow, its strong philosophical stance quite often takes control of the overall emotional expression, and thus their exploration of humanity is deep, making the film heavy and emotionally unbearable. Quite differently, Weekend probes the same issues with a light approach, but not as light, or usually comical, as Hollywood movies, and that projection of the actual life of nobodies brings that film closer to its viewers. There are no special effects or melodramatic expressions. All you see is something so real and sincere, something that resembles the tone and attitude of Adele, something that reminds us of Englishness, a memory of pure imagination.

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