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Free Fall 

by Marjorie Baumgarten

It begins in an idyllic park setting outside Oxford. A man and a woman spread a picnic blanket and uncork some champagne as the man begins to speak. We strain to hear what he is saying, but our attention -- and his -- is diverted by the distant sight of a runaway hot-air balloon with a young boy trapped in the gondola. The man runs to catch up with the contraption, as do several other park patrons, who free the boy and hold on to the balloon's ropes as it ascends to the sky in a sudden gust of wind. One by one, they let go, while the balloon wrestles itself upward. The last man waits too long to let go, and plummets to a fatal crash landing. Joe (Daniel Craig) -- the man from the beginning -- comes upon the grisly half-remains of the would-be rescuer, as does Jed (Rhys Ifans), who asks Joe to kneel with him and pray.

In this moment, Enduring Love takes off: Everything else that occurs in the movie is colored by the freak event with the balloon. It's as if the men are still in free fall, cut loose from the balloon yet unbound by the laws of gravity. Is this love? Is this what's meant by a leap of faith? Adapted by Joe Penhall from an Ian McEwan novel, Enduring Love is a little microcosm of the author's recurring theme of the life of the rational mind. Filmed in a rather minimalist style, Enduring Love is the story of a stalker's effect on a mature relationship. Jed, it turns out, is a psychopath who perceives something in Joe's gestures or demeanor as a come-on or lure. Jed begins to stalk Joe, who is in love with Claire (Samantha Morton), the sculptor he lives with.

As time goes by, Joe remains obsessed with the balloon incident and grows increasingly upset with Jed's constant presence outside his flat window, inside restaurants, bookstores and the class he teaches (where he lectures students about the illusion of love as a trick of nature to ensure the propagation of the species). Claire suggests Joe see a psychiatrist for his obvious post-traumatic stress, but why doesn't anyone in this movie suggest that Joe visit the police? A restraining order would have been a logical choice.

What we witness instead is the steady deterioration of Joe and Claire's relationship and the unnerving boldness of the obviously unbalanced Jed (wonderfully portrayed by Ifans, who was also so good in Michell's Notting Hill and as the ape man in Human Nature). Also, the relationships of those around him are held up as comparisons: The widow of the man who fell to earth from the balloon harbors belated suspicions about her marriage, and Joe's philandering "brother-in-law" is having an affair with the family's au pair.

Enduring Love is ultimately a creepy tale, emphasizing the uncontrollable, irrational aspects of love, yet it's a tale told from a rational distance, a story that informs but never elucidates.

Publication date: 11/25/04

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