Metroland is the perfect movie to watch on an overcast Sunday afternoon. Or at 1:23am on a Monday morning. Whenever you feel a little lost, really. I watched Metroland for the first time when I was going through my nihilistic-yet-utterly-terrified phase. From my viewing experience what I can tell you is this: Metroland is probably the most comforting movie I’ve ever watched. It lacks the wide-eyed optimism that can be frustrating in ‘mid-life crisis’ movies. The film also doesn’t drown viewers in nostalgia for youth long past. Metroland sits just right, settling somewhere between understated and epiphany.
The film is a no-frills depiction of suburban life and a mild mid-life crisis. Chris Lloyd (Christian Bale) is a typical 30-something year old Brit. He has a wife, Marion (Emily Watson), a toddler, a house, a mortgage, a vegie patch, a car, an office job that requires him to catch public transport, and, of course, terrible sideburns. However, Lloyd has a Parisian past as a left-wing, bourgeois-hating, amateur photographer, determined to never settle for a life in Metroland. Toni (Lee Ross), Lloyd’s rebellious, nomadic best friend, returns from Africa (Or was it America?) with a holier-than-thou attitude, it would seem, to ruffle Lloyd’s feathers. Toni hates that Lloyd lives a mile from where his parents lived. He hates that Lloyd is somewhat happily married. He hates that Lloyd is disgustingly bourgeois. “Chris Lloyd, happy ever after in Metroland,” he spits. As is always the case with intrusive people, Toni does everything in his power to resurrect the angry British youth within Lloyd. He sneers at Lloyd’s passion project. He arranges a friend to seduce Lloyd. He invites Lloyd to leave it all behind and indulge in his hedonistic past. Chris’ decision takes the audience on a journey of his past and present, weighing up the pros and cons of each with surprising objectivity. Metroland is undoubtedly a movie about choices, but it certainly doesn’t preach.
Metroland isn’t one to overwhelm with haughty ambition. It bobs along nicely, gently poking and prodding the audience as it does. The cast gives strong, but nuanced performances. It is probably for the best that viewers do not have to stomach caricatures of classic characters from the 60s and 70s. This assists Metroland with its down to earth nature. Christian Bale’s Chris Lloyd is a content man, only forcing strong emotions when the time calls. Whilst Emily Watson’s Marion is a realist, without being cynical, and has enough wit to handle Chris’ daydreams of infidelity. Lee Ross’ portrayal of Toni retains the belligerence of the ‘rage generation’ with shocked indignation. It really is refreshing to watch a film with firm, but not larger-than-life characters. Through this characterisation, director Philip Saville, makes Metroland an unpretentious and fulfilling movie experience. The film is accompanied by Mark Knopfler’s score. An obvious masterpiece from his work is the Metroland Main Theme. Personally, I enjoyed the instrumental version, rather than the full version. It fits perfectly with the train imagery, symbolic of Metroland’s and perhaps Chris’, lost ambition. Like the rest of the film, the score isn’t outrageous, but it is so well suited, it is impossible not to like.
Although Chris Lloyd has an active imagination, the film is careful not to sugarcoat the past, or the present. Saville’s even handed approach in adapting the novel, Metroland, to the screen is what makes it such an unthreatening and honest exploration of relationships and life choices. Ten years ago in Paris, Chris is content in his relationship with French girlfriend, Annick (Elsa Zylberstein). She’s a smart, affectionate, attractive woman. They drink tea, eat baguettes and have sex in the afternoon. That is until he meets Marion. She’s a sharp, straight shooter, who seems to understand Chris better than he does himself. Infact, Marion is like a more self-aware version of Chris. They drink tea, play cricket using baguettes as bats and explore Paris. Neither woman is romanticised or necessarily charms Lloyd into a whirlwind of love and lust. In this way, the audience doesn’t view Chris’ past, or present, through rose-tinted glasses. For example, Chris’ daughter, Amy, is more like a prop than a child, crying or making a mess whenever needed to cause havoc for Marion. (Actually, in my opinion, Amy is reminiscent of a cat that is rarely in the house. Chris even pats her at one point.) Another example is of Chris’ inability to commit to Annick, leaving her for Marion without much drama needed. Each case is a simple and honest depiction of different lives. Movies involving mid-life crises often hinge on emotion and loyalty. Metroland is bold enough to present viewers with a choice, where neither path is gilded with triumph or loss of morality. All in all, Saville’s movie is a tale of objective, not ethical, choices.
Metroland doesn’t necessarily celebrate mediocrity, but it certainly gives the bourgeois among the audience a nice pat on the back (or atleast I felt it). It isn’t the plight of a man, determined to make his mark on the world. It isn’t a man settling for less. The film isn’t a lesson in morals, or a guilt trip for that matter. Discussion about ethics aside, Metroland reinforces the basic age old sentiment: do what makes you happy, do what feels right. As I mentioned earlier, I first viewed the film when I was having to think about life choices and career options for the first time in my life. In a moment of uncertainty and panic, Chris Lloyd’s story filled me with peace. I’ll sum up the feeling in the most accurate way I know possible with a memory. Metroland gave me the impression of a friend who I watch the sky and talk with, who quietly listens to my predicament, without judging, looks me in the eyes and says, “Hey, you’re doing just fine.”
Metroland (1997): 8/10