France/Australia, 2013, minutes, Colour.
Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Gary Sweet, Jessica Tovey, Sophie Lowe.
Directed by Anne Fontaine.
It was too good a phrase not to use: a reviewer-friend remarked at the end of Adoration, “a film of vexatious morality”.
Indeed, the film is a story which raises moral issues. It is too easy and glib simply to note the tagline of two women falling in love with each other’s teenage sons. This is something of what the film is about but does not indicate anything of how the subject is treated. A number of audiences have found the film very romantic. Others have worried about the relationships, the effect on each of the characters, and some have worried about the closeness of the friendships and relationships, even suggesting overtones of incest.
The title of the film, Adoration (previously, Adore) is suggestive of how, during the relationships, each partner sees the other. However, the original title of the film was To Mothers and, indeed, the original title of Doris Lessing’s story is To Grandmothers. Doris Lessing, in her stories, often set in Africa, and was not afraid to tackle troubling situations. Hence, the interest in exploring the characters, friendship, affairs of the two grandmothers.
While the director is French, and Fontaine, the adaptation of Doris Lessing’s novel comes from noted British playwright and screen-writer, Christopher Hampton (dangerous liaison is Dangerous Liaison is). And the setting has been adapted for Australia, the central coast of New South Wales, filmed at Seal rocks, a beautiful ocean location with beaches and cliffs, the atmosphere of a small town.
we are introduced to the two mothers when they are children, playing in the bush and on the beach on the verge of puberty. We are made aware of the strong bonds between the two, sharing everything, the best of friends. as the to look at each other, there is a visual transition to them as grown-up, as mothers, attending the funeral of the husband of one of them. as with the mothers, their two sons formed strong friendships and bonds, the best of friends. And, the same visual change to bring the boys to their late teenage years. Still best friends, surfing, in and out of each other’s houses, ordinary situations. But, there is some tension in one household as a marriage seems to have gone cold, the husband wanting to move to Sydney, to teach at Sydney University, his wife seemingly willing, but this being the last Bond being cut and he moves away.
It seems best to mention here the strength of the performances. Naomi Watts, perhaps a bit more subdued than in her other performances, is little, whose son is Ian (Xavier Samuel). Robin Wright is Roz whose son is Tom (James fresh feel). Ben Mendelsohn is Roz’s husband who moves out. While the performances are strong, Robin Wright’s portrayal of Roz stands out, a complex portrait of a middle-aged woman and her profound emotions.
It is in this context that Ian makes an approach to Roz, Tom resentful when he finds out what has happened, approaches Lill. It is here that many audiences become uncomfortable, though some are vast would the audience be so questioning had the genders been reversed, the younger women approaching the older men. It is still rather unusual to have the younger men approach the older women and to want a relationship rather than merely an affair.
But the film takes a song, two years after the initial beginnings of the affairs. Which gives the film some more substance, on how each of the couples handles the situation, well or not well. There are further complications when Tom goes to Sydney, to work with his father, meats and aspiring actress and all four have to take stock of their situation.
And the complications did not stop there because each of the young men does marry, and has to face whether the marriage is substantial or the initial love is still all-pervasive.
Stories are able to take us into areas which may not be familiar, to characters faced with the moral dilemmas, who do not look to the consequences at the time but are capable of being particularly hurtful. And, adoration leaves us with these questions.
1. The titles of the film: two mothers, Adore, Adoration? The particular focal point?
2. An adaptation of Doris Lessing’s novel? For the screen? For an Australian setting? Lessing’s title of Two Grandmothers?
3. The locations, the beautiful photography, atmosphere, the coastal town, homes, the cliffs, roads, the bush, the sea, the rocks, the service? The interlude in Sydney? The musical score?
4. The introduction to Lil and Roz, young girls, at puberty, the close friendship, their bonds, sharing, best friends?
5. The transition to adulthood, the continuing bonds, the funeral and levels of grief for Lil, Roz’s marriage, her son? The two boys together, friends? The care, Harold urging the boys to go to the beach, their play together? The visuals of the transition to them as older teenagers?
6. The transition to the women, 40-ish, their appearances, fit and trim, their lives, difficulties, relationship with their sons, love? They love for each other and its intensity?
7. Harold and Roz, the relationship with Tom? Harold and his career, the application for the job, not discussing it with Roz, his wanting to go? Her acceptance? Are rationalising the situation? His going to Sydney, his absence? Happy and his return? The collapse of the marriage, his going to Sydney, the opportunities for Tom, the new marriage, loving his wife, devotion to the baby? With Tom, the auditions, Tom’s success? Bringing Mary to the 21st birthday party? His losing his anger for Roz? A new life?
8. The situation, the boys at 18, their friendship, surf, in and out of each other’s houses?
9. Ian and his character, relationship with his mother? His approaching Roz, the kiss, her response? The affair? Tom and his discovery, the effect on him, resentment, approaching Lil, talking, the kiss, laws reaction and response?
10. The situation developing, from affairs to relationship? The effect on each of the women? The discussions? The profound emotional impact?
11. The character of Saul, coming to the office, a suitor for Lil, stopping the car and offering help, his visit, his responding to the suggestion that they were a lesbian couple? Lil and Roz and their laughter at this response?
12. The passing of two years, Ian, his working in the office, with his mother, the continuing relationship, his future, the contrast with Tom, working at the
theatre, his relationship with Lil, his future?
13. Tom going to Sydney, with his father, the auditions, Mary and her song, the impact, the relationship with her, Lil and her suspicions, the affair with Mary, his 21st birthday party, Harold bringing Mary, dancing with her? Leading up to the marriage?
14. Lil, upset, Roz and her strong mindedness, telling Ian to live his own life, being upset and his anger?
15. The 21st birthday party, the dance, with Hannah, the affair, saying he would elbow her out of this life? Her pregnancy?
16. Ian and his blaming Roz? The strong words between them?
17. In the surf, upset, falling, injured, hospital? The aftermath?
18. Hannah, visiting in hospital, the pregnancy, his rehabilitation, their life together?
19. Time passing, their all going to the beach, the grandmothers with their children, the tensions between the husbands and wives?
20. Tom, going to Lil, the continuing of the affair, levels, explanation to Roz? Ian upset? The bluntness of Ian telling the truth about the relationships? Hannah hearing, upset, Mary and Hannah together, taking the children, leaving?
21. The four people on the float, the overhead shot – the opportunity for the audience to reflect on what had happened and wonder about the future?
22. The moral perspectives, behaviour, relationships, betrayal, the hurtful experiences and their consequences?