In Enduring Love, talented British director Roger Michell sets forth a film full of beautifully composed images and some demanding explorations into the nature of love-but one hampered by a steady stream of bad language and an uncertain conclusion.
Enduring Love (rated R for language, some violence, and a disturbing image) opens with an astonishing, gruesome balloon accident. A young couple sets up a romantic picnic lunch in an idyllic field in the English countryside. Without warning, an unmoored hot air balloon drifts into view behind them, with a boy helpless inside.
The couple, along with several others nearby, rushes to help. Although a handful of men grab the balloon's ropes, a gust of wind sends it upward, and one by one the would-be rescuers drop off. Except one, who holds on too long and plunges to his death.
The accident creates a set of bizarre and painful chain reactions, primarily traced through the disintegration of the young couple's relationship. Joe (Daniel Craig) was one of the men who dropped from the balloon, and he obsesses over his role in the accident. Claire (Samantha Morton) can't seem to understand what Joe is going through, failing repeatedly to return Joe to normalcy.
Any hope of putting the accident behind them is complicated by Jed (Rhys Ifans), another participant in the botched rescue. Jed turns out to be a grade-A psycho who develops a more than unhealthy fascination with Joe, spurred on by a combination of evangelistic impulses (he speaks in the language of a Christian, a fact that might be more offensive if Jed weren't so clearly unbalanced) and a romantic crush.
While the film is in basic form a sort of thriller, it's mostly concerned with internal consequences. Joe has a very rational, biological, Darwinian view of the universe. His ability to explain life in terms of animalistic impulses crumbles, however, in the face of Jed's inexplicable obsession and Joe's own inability to salvage his relationship with Claire.
The challenges to Joe's humanism present some fascinating moments, but the script relies far too heavily on profanity and returns uncomfortably to action (and thriller conventions) at its close. We're left with several devastated individuals, some shocking images, and a not much deeper understanding of life or love.