Enduring Love

There is a fatal accident involving a hot-air balloon at the beginning of “Enduring Love,” with several bystanders attempting unsuccessfully to prevent it. Witnessing a gruesome event like that will change a person, usually for the worse in the short run, but maybe eventually for the better. “Enduring Love” examines, in a quiet, ruminative manner — with bursts of high drama at a few key moments — the effect of this tragedy on minds both stable and unstable.

Joe (Daniel Craig), a university professor in London, becomes mildly obsessed with the incident, re-creating it in his mind and with whatever props he sees lying around that happen to be balloon-shaped. His live-in girlfriend, Claire (Samantha Morton), who was there, too, seems less bothered by it all. Of course, she didn’t actually go to the field where the body landed, like Joe did. She didn’t see the gore.

The only other bystander who saw what Joe saw is Jed (Rhys Ifans), whose immediate reaction was to kneel down in prayer. Following the accident, he begins turning up in Joe’s life, insisting Joe has something to say to him. Joe has no idea what Jed is expecting him to say. He is trying, at least externally, to move past that day in the field. Jed, on the other hand, seems to think a bond was forged.

Mingled with all this are scenes from Joe’s classroom, where he says that love and all other emotions are simply biological responses with no real meaning that humans attach meaning to. But if that’s the case, we want to say, shouldn’t it be much easier to get over negative emotions?

Daniel Craig’s performance as Joe is extremely compelling, a very naturalistic portrayal of a man swamped with conflicting emotions and beset with external conflicts. (Joe’s relationship with Claire suffers in the aftermath of the accident, too.)

And Rhys Ifans, in a rare dramatic role, surprises me with his depth. His character is by necessity kept in the periphery — the film doesn’t want us to know too much about him too soon — but the way he plays a quasi-stalker with a level of humanity often absent in such characters is impressive.

The film is directed by Roger Michell, working more in the realm of his thinky “Changing Lanes” than his non-thinky “Notting Hill.” Shooting from Joe Penhall’s adaptation, he distills some of the more internal themes from Ian McEwan’s novel into a concise, effective film.

B (1 hr., 40 min.; R, a lot of harsh profanity, some blood and violence.)