Half in Love With Easeful Death
Surfacing briefly in theaters two years after it was filmed, on the way to what looks like a much more natural berth on a smaller screen, Carol Morley's intimate feature film, "Edge," proves again that the director of "Dreams of a Life" is drawn to looking mortality right in the eye. Its eight seemingly unconnected characters turn out to be very much intertwined — first by parallel threads of loss, regret and unhappiness; and then by a set of coincidences brazenly assembled for the purpose of allowing them all some closure. Marooned in a hotel on a particularly bleak portion of the English south coast in midwinter, they collectively ponder the damage done by an uncaring universe before discovering that their creator isn't as vindictive as all that. Having declared that they can't go on, they go on.
This sees them pair off to engage in a set of extended and blackly comic duologues, which throws the focus on several very fine actors but does mean that some other mordantly minded English dramatists threaten to check in with them. Marjorie Yates, as a terminally ill pensioner keen to check out permanently, delivered some speeches squarely in the key of Alan Bennett about her husband having run off with another man. ("He was round our house all the time — very keen on my mixed grill.") At the other extreme, Maxine Peake — an actor already armed with a face which does not suggest inner peace — got a melodramatic arc that gets a bit overheated, but few performers simmer on the inside the way that she does. And anyone hiring Nichola Burley for anything is onto a winner: the most cinematic moment in "Edge" is Ms. Burley suddenly going after her meek and mild date with a gas lighter, when both she and the film suddenly seem to have slipped their moorings.
Ms. Burley's distress is never quite clarified by the plot, and neither are a couple of other key points; the MacGuffin that ties everyone together and allows a happy-ish ending is hardly shown to the audience, and gets blown away on the actual wind, lost forever over a cliff before the character involved can even see it. It seems Ms. Morley would prefer it if some things are taken on faith, human nature being one of them. Hence what happens in her 2006 short "The Madness of the Dance," when a professor played by Ms. Peake goes through a litany of documented cases of mass hysteria — instances where the human mind bails out of self-control altogether in the face of imaginary provocations, before the character herself surrenders to the lord of the dance and leads the cast in a musical number. Like most filmmakers who prefer to consider their mortality rather than drown in it, Ms. Morley likes people — even when they don't much care for themselves.