LOVE: A four letter word that has different meanings to different people. To some, it is blind. To others it is the epitome of life upon which humanity rests. If it wasn’t for love, many fairy tales would not have the infamous closing quote “and they lived happily ever after”. Love is the adhesive that keeps relationships together. So when a story of a man and woman was told, about their love, so strong that to keep it alive they chose not to be together, I was captivated.
"The Bridge of Madison County" tells the story of a recently deceased mother of two who leaves behind a box that will change her children’s lives. A box that contains instructions on how she would like to be cremated, but most importantly, a diary narrating the story of a man she once deeply fell in love with. That man was not their father. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Robert James Waller, the Bridge of Madison County touches closely on what we perceive relationships should be. The plot of the movie is told through the voice of Michael (played by Victor Slezak) and Carolyn (played by Annie Corley) who embark on reading a diary that baffles them and alters their perception of the mother they thought they knew.
As they continue reading, we are taken back in time to when the story actually took place. It is there and then that we are introduced to Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) and her average “perfect” family. The husband and children leave for the Illinois State Fair. It is during this time, the children would eventually find out, that their mother had a four-day affair with Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood), a photographer who had come to Madison County, Iowa, to shoot a photographic essay for National Geographic. Being new to the area, he finds himself lost and ends up at the Johnsons. The mysterious, adventurous and well-travelled aspects of Roberts’s character are very intriguing to Francesca. It takes no time at all for the two to fall madly and deeply in love; a love that will impact not only them, but the relationships of her children, both of whom are having marital problems of their own at the time of the discovery.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, The Bridge of Madison County is a simple well told story and yet it is very difficult to explain why the movie is also very moving. Is it the idea that despite being married for a very long time and seemingly happy with two children, there really could be no love existing between husband and wife? Is it the idea that despite being a woman in your 50s, a stranger can show up and give you those heat flushes and make you forget everything that is important and consequently make you feel and behave like a teenager? Is it the idea that, despite finding true love, we at times settle for less and not take the risk of pursuing our dreams because of what society might think? Is it the idea that someone might come and change your life completely?
With a story arch that slowly develops to a climax that sees Francesca opting not to open the door and run away with Robert, The Bridge of Madison County is perhaps one of those love stories that do not have an happy ending. The story however does not portray Richard Johnson (Francesca's husband) as a bad husband raising questions as to how easily can a lasting marriage be threatened.
Merly Streep once again proves why she is one of the best actresses to ever grace our screens. I however find objectionable how she overplays her character with overly done sighs, hot flushes and reflective moments that you’d expect a 13 year old in love would have. Perhaps the fact that the film is being directed by a man contributes to this. Men have different perceptions as to how love should be compared to women. We tend to see love in the physicality while women’s love is more emotional and expressive. Despite having known Clint Eastwood as the western cowboy character, it was refreshing to see him take up the mushy, sentimental role which he executes well with a touch of his bad boy masculinity. I found the dialogue a bit over the top in some scenes. With cheesy lines like "This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime….I don’t want to need you because I can’t have you” says Robert to Francesca. There are moments I wanted to scream “get a grip people”. So moving is the film though that it makes you reflect if such love does exist or are the relationships we have come to accept a fallacy. I rest peaceful with the fact that it is just a movie.
With long dialogue scenes and numerous close-ups but simple basic shots, the cinematographer Jack N. Green did a good job capturing those seductive moments especially with the scenes in the bathroom and bedroom with candle lights that set the romantic mood with slow music playing in the background.
Taken at face value, the Bridge of Madison County can easily be seen as condoning unfaithfulness in relationships and justifying it. It is however much deeper and reflective about the fact that life is not always about what you want and that happiness can be sacrificed in the name of those you love. Truly, the meaning of love does have different definitions to different people.
Movie rating: 7/10