“Metroland isn’t a place; it’s a state of mind.”
Do you ever think about how your life might have turned out if something hadn’t happened or if you’d made a different decision? One of the turning points in my life was the weather on the morning of October 9th, 1993. If it hadn’t been raining that morning, I probably would have never met my wife. Metroland isn’t necessarily a movie about little coincidences; it’s about a man contemplating the course of his life.
Chris (Christian Bale — Velvet Goldmine, American Psycho) and Marion (Emily Watson — Breaking The Waves, Cradle Will Rock) are married with a baby, commuting to work each day from suburban Metroland. They are contented in their existence, until one day Chris’ friend Toni (Lee Ross — Secrets And Lies, The English Patient) waltzes back into their lives. Toni (yes, he’s a guy — those Brits and their wacky spelling) never let go of the sex-drugs-and-rock and roll hedonistic lifestyle the two had shared together in the ’60s. Toni cannot believe that his friend has settled down, and tries to pry him free. This prompts Chris on a journey through his memories.
Flash back to Chris’ younger days. At twenty-one, he was a young Brit living in Paris, spending most of his time in coffeehouses and practicing his photography. In a little pub, he meets a lovely little French babe, Annick. Both are attracted to each other, and naturally one thing leads to another. It’s Chris’ first experience with the fairer sex, both physically and emotionally. One of those relationship components he learns with practice, but his British upbringing hadn’t prepared him emotionally for Annick’s openness.
Enter Marion. While on vacation in Paris, she meets Chris while playing cricket with her traveling companions. The two spend much time discussing their similar pasts, and gradually they become friends. Annick can’t quite understand that Marion and Chris’ relationship is based on anything other than sex, and she leaves Chris.
Now, back to the present (or rather, the movie’s present day, 1977). Toni invites Chris to a party at his house. It’s the kind of three-step party — dance, drink, retreat to empty bedroom — more ideally suited to the teenagers of American Pie than to middle-aged suburbanites. After knocking back a couple drinks, Chris meets a young girl who only has retreating to an empty bedroom on her mind…and he follows her. And that’s where he has his epiphany, the answer to the movie’s central question: is Chris happy in his marriage to Marion?
Watching Metroland, the first thing that struck me was the similarities between it and another recent sexual-exploration piece: Eyes Wide Shut. Both films deal with a similar theme, the sexual discoveries of their protagonist, with differing results. In Eyes Wide Shut, Bill (Tom Cruise) is plagued with thoughts of his wife’s infidelity, so he embarks on a journey through the things that the night has to offer. Bill flirts with new sexual experiences, always revealed to be perilous, but is never scorched by their dangers. Metroland finds its central character in a mundane suburban life, and reminisces with him to his wild oat-sowing days as he questions the life he has chosen. In a sense, his sexual journey had already taken place with Annick, and now he must question whether that life or his life with Marion is the path he wants to follow in the future.
I didn’t expect that Metroland was going to appeal to me. I love British comedies…but a British relationship drama? Sounds about as exciting as watching my cat lick herself for ninety minutes. Metroland doesn’t deal with its subject matter in a serious, heavy-handed manner, or make its characters into the somber, melancholy beings that seem to populate dramas. Instead, Chris and Marion are people who can experience a wide range of emotions, and take a lighthearted approach even to the heady topics before them. I have to credit Christian Bale and Emily Watson with making real people out of these characters.
I don’t know quite what to say about Universal’s DVD release of Metroland. First off, it’s a full-frame transfer. My guess is it’s a dreaded pan-n-scan transfer. No digital artifacts were apparent, but the source material is grainy, I believe intentionally in the flashback sequences. Audio is presented in Dolby Surround. Dialogue is clear and natural. Metroland‘s soundtrack features a range of music, from punk to jazz, and the rear channel is used extensively to expand the music’s soundstage. The only extra is a theatrical trailer.
I can’t imagine why Universal would give short shrift to such an excellent movie. There’s no reason for a full-frame transfer, or for a lack of extras. This movie would have benefited from a commentary track at the very least.
For those who enjoy contemplative movies, I’d definitely recommend Metroland as a rental. However, the full-frame transfer is enough to discourage me from calling it a must-buy.