Movie Review – Close My Eyes (1991)

Director: Stephen Poliakoff

Stars: Saskia Reeves, Clive Owen, Alan Rickman, Karl Johnson, Lesley Sharp

After some years of tension, Richard (Owen) and his sister Natalie (Reeves) begin an incestuous affair that borders on obsession and becomes dangerous when her husband, Sinclair (Rickman) forms suspicions.

The subject matter of Close My Eyes is immediately going to make some people turn away. The film begins rather oddly, with three or four time jumps in almost as many scenes. It’s pretty strange and it didn’t seem to do anything for the film. We’re introduced to them, then it jumps forward a year, then two years, then another year. At one point Natalie, who is having a rough time, kisses Richard. She quickly runs away and Richard is left puzzled. After his career path brings him back home he reconnects with her, only to find that she’s married.

The incest is excused by them saying that they didn’t spend much time together as kids, as they went with different parents after the divorce. This feels like pandering a little bit, I think if you’re going to broach a subject like incest you should go in fully. There’s no real explanation given for why the incest happens, and it’s hard to wonder why we should be invested in them. What’s more is that the characters aren’t totally likeable. Natalie especially, she is the one that initiates it in the beginning, and then when they begin their affair in earnest she constantly flips, one minute telling Richard to leave her alone, the next begging him to see her. It’s very wearying and doesn’t do anything to endear her to the audience. Their relationship is contrasted with her marriage, where her husband is presented as a dullard who is interested in all manner of inconsequential things. Rickman was okay here, and did well as the haunted man when he first suspects that something is going well. I liked how the passion of the affair was contrasted with the serene middle-class marriage set against an idyllic backdrop.

Speaking of the scenery, it’s really phenomenal. We get to see the upper reaches of the Thames in all its sun-drenched glory. The house in which Natalie and Richard live is an architectural palace and there’s also an atmospheric scene set in a resplendent church. I’m not sure it bodes well for the film when the scenery and settings are the best thing about it, but there we go.

My problem is that the incest just kind of happens, and it ends almost as quickly as it began. There’s no real explanation of what inspired the affair or how the two of them are going to have a relationship in the future. There is value in the tension of the affair as they race around, and in seeing a young Rickman and Owen perform. The scenery is beautiful too, although there are aspects that make it dated. Close My Eyes is okay, it has certain things going for it but it doesn’t explore the psychology of the characters as much as I would have liked.

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