The End of the Affair

Neil Jordan’s screen adaptation (which he wrote and directed) of the novel “The End of the Affair” takes place in the ’40s, and has the look and feel of the old weepers made during that time.

Then there’s the puzzlingly graphic sex scenes, reminding you that these are the ’00s, and people like to see Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore naked.

A case could be made for the idea that those scenes HAVE to be that graphic in order to fully show the depth of their adulterous relationship (Fiennes’ character, a novelist named Morris, is good friends with the woman’s husband, Henry Miles). But for that to be the case, the sex scenes would have to show real love, not just the kind of lust that passes for love in movies these days.

Morris and his partner, Sarah Miles, keep going on about how they love each other, but all we see is that they have sex. Everything else is muted, covered-up, hidden from sight. They’re not just having an affair behind her husband’s back; they seem to be doing it behind ours, too.

After the affair is over, Henry has reason to suspect Sarah is stepping out on him. Having no idea that Morris and Sarah ever dallied, he confides his suspicions in Morris, and Morris has a private detective check it out. He’s not so much interested in it for Henry’s sake as for his own: Who ELSE would she have an affair with, after ending her relationship with him?

The story is non-linear, using flashbacks and different characters’ points of view on the same scenes to tell the full story. There’s no question that Jordan can evoke the moody atmosphere of war-time London, with bombs dropping in the background as our two heroes fornicate, but ambiance is not enough to make a movie work.

Neither is excellent acting, which this film is full of. Fiennes’ angry spurned lover is invigorating to watch as he rages against anything and everything. But all in all, the film is too old-fashioned to appeal to a modern audience, yet simultaneously too smutty to appeal to people who like old ’40s-style tearjerkers. I suspect Jordan worked this dichotomy on purpose, which means we should praise him for being difficult — at least difficult is better than ordinary — but we should pity him, too, for shooting himself in the foot.

C+ (; R, graphic sexuality and nudity..)