The Lake House

We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2006
Director: 
Alejandro Agresti
Starring: 
Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Christopher Plummer, Dylan Walsh
The Setup: 
Man and woman have epistolary relationship across time.
Discussion: 

So while on my vacation in Italy, I see posters for this in the window of some video store, and I start to think: “Oh! I want to see that!” Then, imagine my delight to see it was one of the in-flight selections during my NINE HOUR flight home, my seat sandwiched between two people. Then, imagine my dismay to see that mine was the only super-advanced in-flight entertainment console that wasn’t working. And this is after a horrendous ordeal involving non-existent airport shuttle trains, and a very slim margin of time before my flight. Of nine hours. Sandwiched between two people.

So perhaps you can imagine the blessed state of rapture I was in when my super-advanced in-flight entertainment console suddenly sputtered to life. I remarked to the guy next to me at the end of the flight how I was shitting a brick when I saw that I couldn’t watch any movies, which caused the smug New England yuppies in front of me, who had pointedly not turned on their TVs at all, to exchange a silent glance of peerless superiority about how THEY do not NEED modern video entertainment, but instead choose to occupy their time with BOOKS, although both of them had their iPods in their ears within 500 feet of disembarking.

So perhaps you will appreciate the state of mind I was in; ready to open myself and let the magic of The Lake House wash over me in all its soothing glory. So I can be in no way objective as to whether this is something you would want to watch if you had, you know, options. But I have one more digression: They should have a special airline arthouse theater, where they show movies so long that you would never want to to sit through them—IF you weren’t on a flight of several hours. Inland Empire? Lay it ON ME. The Tarkovsky Solaris? I can’t think of better conditions. But wait- You can’t—BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ?!?

Okay, so, the movie. That thing. We note that this is a remake of an earlier movie, Il Mare, which, surprise, is not Italian but Korean. It is said to do what this one does, but a lot better, and not shy away from the serious space-time continuum questions, which this one coats over with a soothing balm.

So Sandra—she’s Kate, but come on, she’s Sandra—moves in to said Lake House, this impossibly architectural thing that it actually seems like it might be unpleasant to live in. Oddly the house itself is not made into a character in the film at all. The mailbox is… but we’ll get to that. Sandra also starts at a new hospital, and her boss transfers a patient to her, saying, RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM, “Well, he could be dead in four hours.” Uh, bedside manner?

Somewhere in here Sandra meets her mom for lunch at this urban park, and they talk about how Mom must feel close to her dead husband as she reads the books he read. They’re reading the same words. Across time. And they feel close. Hold on… subtext detector firing!

Then as if that didn’t beat all some random dude is hit by a car just across the way. Sandra sprints into action, but it’s too late, the guy dies, and Sandra is all pooty for the day. She’s a bit pooty and bleak throughout the movie, which is a nice reversal for the usually-chipper Sandra, and ends up being one of the most powerful ways the ocean of this film’s emotion eventually ends up sweeping over its many flaws.

But I get ahead of myself. What of Keanu? Keanu is a foreman or some shit whose father is a respected Chicago architect. All this is happening in Chicago. Keanu has been absent for a while and estranged from his father, played by Christopher Plummer. Blah blah blah.

So after a few coinkidinks Keanu and Sandra realize that they are existing in two different time periods, separated by two years, Sandra’s timeline happening after Keanu’s. I am going to leave out all the stuff about how they come to realize it, although I do have to say that it seemed they accepted the idea that they have a magic mailbox that communicates through time rather more readily than the average person might. Then there’s all these scenes of how they’re in the same place but years apart, although they’re in the same frame together. These scenes are a little similar in tone to the father-son talks across time in Frequency. Anyway, Sandra’s all mopey and depressed and has given up on love, and Keanu is in a bad place too, what with dad and all, but is still in more of a position to buck her up and give her hope.

Sandra has this boyfriend Morgan, who may as well be wearing a sweatshirt that says “Obviously too uptight and yuppieish,” but he’s kind of a complication as well, although we know she’s broken up with him as the movie begins—but will she get back together with him?

Let’s get back to the subtext. Aside for a lot of the stuff [and there IS a fair amount] about reading the same words as someone else, just like they’re reading each other’s letters across time, there’s also an assload of stuff about waiting. The first is this girl in the hospital who is watching Notorious. She says that her mother says you should never get tied down, because there’s always something better around the corner. And Sandra responds that you have to be careful you’re not always waiting for something better, because you could end up waiting forever. Then there’s talk about the Jane Austen novel Persuasion, which Sandra at one point says is about how these two people put off being together, and at the end when they get the chance it’s too late—although that is not the ending of the novel. But anyway, the whole script is laced with references to reading and waiting. There’s also some stuff about how in the Lake House you can look out at beauty but not experience it firsthand. It may be heavy-handed, but one appreciates a subtext at all, and in this case it works very well in service of the movie.

If you do watch the movie, you might be interested to know that the scene they watch from Notorious—and they do show it twice—features a clever trick. At the time, it was forbidden to show a kiss that lasted longer than a specific, short time. How Hitchcock got around that was to have their actual kisses be very short, but in the context of a caressing and nuzzling, which makes the love scene come off as long even though the kisses are short.

SPOILERS > > >
So after a while you’re like; “So how come they can never meet? They’re only two years apart. But Keanu does sort of go and have a scene with Sandra in which she doesn’t know it’s him—a bit like certain affecting scenes in The Thirteenth Floor—which involves him being invited at the drop of a hat to a total stranger’s party, and then macking hard on the girlfriend of that host! Kind of a shitty thing to do.

Then Keanu’s dad dies under the weight of a nauseating deathbed scene, and, oh dear, this introduces the music of Nick Drake into the proceedings. I have nothing against Nick Drake, in fact I like him—that’s why I want to keep him out of my semi-trashy depressive rom-coms.

So Sandra and Keanu finally make a date to meet—at Il Mare, the name of the Korean version of this movie—but he doesn’t show, which causes her to break it off with him. Now, you DO realize that you’re in the spoiler section of this review, right? Because when Sandra ruminates that “Life and end in a second. Just like that guy that got ran over by that car on valentine’s day,” you will slap your head and say Holy SHIT! That guy that got hit by the car was KEANU!” And then you start to think: is this film rally going to see it through? Like they’ll go through all this only to never be able to be together? And the film has enough material in that direction that you begin to think this could actually be the case.

Now I’m going to give away the ending, so I feel moved to skip past the spoiler mark if you don’t want to know—and it’s kind of good not to know. So anyway, after their failed meeting Sandra decides she can’t put her heart through it, and asks Keanu not to contact her. She gets back together with Morgan, who’s the kind of guy who forgets Valentine’s Day, and we can tell she’s not fully happy. One day something happens and she realizes Keanu was the guy that got hit. So she writes him a letter [the movie is a bit funny about her constantly driving 30 minutes out of town to put letters in the mailbox] telling him NOT to come, to wait two years, then meet her at the lake house. She puts the letter in the box and waits, and THIS IS the climax—this moment of total suspense that the movie has been building toward, and amazingly they don’t mess it up. I will admit that I totally lost my shit when Sandra kneels down next to the mailbox—a little embarrassing when you’re sandwiched between two strangers on an airplane.
< < < SPOILERS END

You know, fuck it, I’m NOT going to tell you the ending.

Okay, sure it’s manipulative crap. Now that’s established, it was pretty good! Aside from the aforementioned subtext accomplished by fairly careful writing, the characterizations really work. Sandra’s rather difficult arc—a woman who has given up on love allowing herself to open up again, and how convincingly this sets up for the oft-botched scene in which some event makes her realize how much she loves him, and isn’t even aware of it. Here, it works, and you have to give it credit for that. Keanu’s arc is less interesting, but works well with hers. Also, you have to admire that this film’s climax is a moment of suspense, rather than an explosion, and that the structure of this film is simply to continue to build toward that moment. So it’s more an apparent exercise in structure that requires skill and technique. I have no evidence to back this up, but the whole thing seems SO KOREAN in its delicacy of feeling and pale, subdued emotions. I have the Korean original on my list and am looking forward to it.

If you like this kind of movie, with two lovers fated to be together and the whole film building toward that, all suffused with mucho romance, please check out The Lovers of the Arctic Circle. Very much like this film, but more poetic and swoony. Also similar is Frequency, which is really a love story between father and son, which also builds toward a glorious reunion in the end. Ah, romance. Time-travel romance.

Should you watch it: 

If you’re ready to be swept away by the unabashedly sappy, cast your cares to the wind.