Like a puzzle with half of the pieces missing
“Nah, I rather think it’s from the water. It’s a reflection you know.”
“What about this one? It looks greenish. It could from one of those bushes in the background”.
“Yeah. Let’s put it in that corner. It’s just tentative. We can always move it at later point”.
Something odd happened as the audience left the theatre after watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Rather than leaving the place in a hurry to catch buses, release the babysitter or tend to their thirst in a bar, people assembled in small groups in the lobby to discuss something.
I imagined it was the movie. Like me they were trying to put together a picture that made reasonably much sense out of the scattered pieces that had been tossed to us at them during the night.
It was a bit of a challenge considering we only had had access to half of the fragments. Someone had apparently decided to get rid of the other half either to make it more interesting or – more likely – to keep down the running time.
It didn’t get easier since some of the pieces looked so deceptively similar to each other. The grey offices, the men in trench coat uniforms, the cryptic conversations that sounded about the same were mixed into a blur. It was a wonderfully made and it caught the atmosphere of the 70s and the cold war in a way that I only think someone who previously has directed “Four Shades of Brown” is capable of. But well made or not – it felt like a blur. Or rather a riddle, made up on purpose to give the audience something to work on.
From the start of the movie it was clear there wouldn’t be any free ride. This was a movie that required you to remain alert and watch out for clues that could bring clarity to what to make of the pieces. So I grabbed Smiley’s glasses firmly and tried to hold on to them throughout the movie as we jumped back and forth between the past and the present. You see, he had two pairs with slightly different shapes, and depending on which pair he wore I knew approximately where on the timeline he was, early or late.
Every time I got confused I reminded myself: “The glasses, Jessica!” “Check the glasses!”
Sadly enough this trick wasn’t enough to keep me on track throughout the entire film. It was the last show for the night and I was tired. I probably shouldn’t have bothered to watch anything more complicated than a sitcom show. It didn’t take too long before I had to start slapping myself on the chin once in a while, pinching my skin, chewing my nails and pulling out thread from my hair, once at a time, all of this just to keep me from falling asleep, which was tempting. I knew that if I did it would be a disaster. With some movies a little nap isn’t such it’s not a big deal; you can afford drifting away for a little while and catch up later, but this wasn’t one of them. If I wanted to have any chance whatsoever to solve the mystery alongside with Smiley I had to pay attention. Obviously I failed.
A post theatre analysis
This film experience could have been a bit of a flop on my side if it hadn’t been for my husband. Most of the time I watch movies on my own, but for once I had company and as we walked home in the night we ran a post-theatre discussion between us.
Piece after piece was held up, inspected, and talked about until we could put it in the area where we thought it belonged. I didn’t contribute as much as my husband, but I blame this on that he has watched far more agent films and TV series from the 70s than I have. I was more into detective stories at that time.
Aware of my shortcomings in this field I had had taken precautions before watching TTSS. I had tried to read the novel by John le Carré. I say “tried”, because it turned out that the book is just as hard to follow as the movie and I abandoned it after 100 pages, when at which point I still didn’t know what the book was about.
While leaving the book I reassured myself that I probably would understand the movie without reading it. How hard could it be? Well, very hard as you know. It took our joint forces and a long walk to figure out of the gist of it. We just made it in time for our arrival at home.
Considering those difficulties you might think I didn’t enjoy the movie very much. But as a matter of fact I did – and not only out of nationalistic pride over what the Swedish director Tomas Alfredson has accomplished.
You don’t need to know the details of the plot to appreciate the cluster of really good British actors. You don’t need to know exactly who is spying on whom to enjoy the cinematography and design. There was something in this dull looking world that spoke to me and made nostalgic.
My husband labeled the movie “costume drama”, and I think he’s onto something. Costume dramas can work pretty well even if you don’t understand the details of the plot. What matters most is that you get the opportunity to hang out with the characters and spend time in their world.
I imagine that TTSS will be better the next time I watch it. It will be easier to figure out where the pieces belong and perhaps I could even find a few more that I didn’t notice the first time around.
Tinker Tailor Solider Spy (Tomas Alfredson, UK, 2011) My rating: 4/5