Waterland (1992) starring Jeremy Irons is based on Graham Swift’s 1982 book of the same name (shortlisted for the booker award). I’m perplexed why Waterland is so underappreciated (6.6 IMDB, 53% RT) and why it failed at the box office (cumulative worldwide gross: $1,100,218 and Budget 10,000,000). It is beautifully shot, haunting and nostalgic. It contains my favourite acting from Jeremy Irons and it showcases Ethan Hawke in the prime of his youth. The director Stephen Gyllenhaal is the father of Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal.
IMDB Movie Description: Tom Crick (Jeremy Irons), a high school history teacher, is having trouble connecting – with his class, with his wife. He ventures into telling his class stories about his young adulthood in the Fens district in England. The emotional wounds from his younger life wash over him in present day, affecting his work and his relationships with his students and his wife.
Tom Crick in a sense reflects the underwhelming reception of Waterland. No-one is interested in what he has to say including his wife, history class, society at large and the public audience as it turns out. Talk about ‘art imitating life’. This washed up history professor is left clueless about he can engage with people. Crick pleads with the rebellious student Matthew Price played by Ethan Hawke “Bloody Hell Price! Why do you make all that extra effort for mathematics and nothing for history?” Price replies “Cuz math makes sense.”
So one day in class he decides to make sense of history- ‘to hell with the curriculum‘ and recounts the history of his life. He is of course opening himself up to all kinds of ridicule but this cathartic exercise allows him to reassess his life and reengage with the class who had given up on him.
Waterland is one of the most moving films I have ever seen. It is very melancholic and contains some disturbing scenes which could alienate some viewers. The film touches the taboo of early sexual longing (male and female) and leaves us to look at the costs of opening Pandora’s box. I remember the first time I saw it, I wasn’t too sure what to think. I’ve seen it countless times since and I am completely in awe.
The movie addresses universal and important questions: How do you forgive yourself after you may have contributed to the death of someone you loved? How do you forgive your past selves? How can you stop the cycle of abandonment after you’ve been abandoned? How do you not abandon yourself? The whole movie is now available on you tube, but I have linked the poignant ending below.
- Maggie Gyllenhaal’s motion picture debut
- Mr Irons and Ms Cusack are real-life husband and wife.
- Part of the film was filmed at Doddington Place Gardens, near Faversham. The Victorian mansion was used as the ancestral home to Tom Crick