In terms of the basic plot line, The Weight of Water
has many things in common with Gwyneth Paltrow's Possession.
In both of those films, someone from the present is
investigating a mystery in the past, and that experience is causing them
to reflect on their own lives. Weight of Water is actually the earlier
movie, although it passed through its theatrical release virtually
unnoticed in 2000.
The films are not similar in tone, however, and they
relate the parallel stories in very different ways. Possession is a more
straightforward film. Two literary scholars co-operate in the
investigation of a secret and theretofore unsuspected relationship
between two nineteenth century poets. Each of the modern day scholars
specializes in one of the Victorian lovers, paired off by matching
sexes. Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, is a specialist in the woman being
investigated. She feels she knows the woman, and she identifies with
her. When all of her assumptions about the female poet are challenged,
she begins to re-examine her analysis of the poet and of herself as
well. The fact that the poet turned out to be more open to the varieties
and richness of love than previously thought caused Gwyneth to open
herself up in a similar way. All in all, that was quite a tidy script.
The Weight of Water is far less contrived than that,
and more subtle. Unfortunately, contrivance can be as underrated as
subtlety is overrated. The problem with this subtle, uncontrived
approach is that it is just not interesting. The script is constantly
searching for profundity, and perhaps it succeeds in that quest from
time to time, but this water was a little too weighty for my taste. It
seeks depth while sacrificing a compelling narrative.
A female photographer/journalist is investigating a
19th century double murder among the mostly Norwegian immigrants on the
rugged islands off the coast of New Hampshire. Her husband's brother has
a boat, and the two couples turn the research into a working vacation of
sorts. The journalist wants to understand the case fully, so she gets so
far into the psychology of the characters in the past that she is
dreaming about them, imagining them. She concludes that the crime was
not committed by the person or for the reasons normally imagined.
In the present, her marriage to a Pulitzer-winning
poet is experiencing difficulties, and that situation is not made any
easier by the fact that her husband is flirting with his brother's
girlfriend. It is especially troubling since the girlfriend looks a lot
like the gorgeous British model/actress, Elizabeth Hurley. In fact,
exactly like her. Ms. Hurley seems to spend all of her screen time
making eyes at the husband, sunbathing topless, and sucking suggestively
on various household objects. It's much like her real life.
It is always difficult to manage parallel stories in
the past and present. Looking back on the films which have used that
device, not many of them are that memorable, for various reasons. The
greatest weakness of the device in this particular avatar is that the
connection between the past and the present is tenuous. I was watching
carefully, mindful of that very link, and I saw only one very good use
of the past story to explain something in the present. There is a brief
period in the present day story when the journalist's actions seem
inexplicable unless one understands what actually happened in the past,
as well as the journalist's perception of it. That moment rang through
like a powerful bell, but the rest of the film almost seemed like two
unrelated stories being cut together randomly.
I guess I could live with the sudden merging of the
characters' motivations from previously unsuspected connections if the
two stories were each supremely interesting, or even if one of them was,
but in this case neither of the two separate stories, if viewed
separately, would really hold one's attention. Even the double axe
murder in the past is dull because there is no surprise in the story's
retelling. We are led to believe from the very outset that the accused
murderer is innocent, and we are led to believe who really did it and
why. The fully detailed story simply confirms what we had already
inferred. There is a surprise twist in the present, but I can't say it
is one that will provide much of a reward to the viewer for having
watched faithfully through the contemporary story filled with portentous
exchanges and meaningful glances.
The film's formula was consistent, but unsuccessful:
(languorous, meaningful glancing and pregnant pausing in the present) +
(a complete lack of surprises in the past) = boredom. The entire
project is slow and arty, and the running time has been padded with
recitations from poetry. I'm not surprised that the film was such a
complete failure at the box office.