The Drama of the Mundane

I watched Another Year by director Mike Leigh last night. It is a year in the life of a relatively uncharismatic group of individuals, The script is excruciatingly accurate. Anyone who made an early decision in his or her life to leave the predictable and eventless world of their parents, wishing to become dramatic figures on a different landscape, would feel totally exonerated. The central couple play out their habituated lives with in-jokes, sly smirks and public togetherness, exhibiting an aura of the steadfast rock of the family and with a self-satisfied all-knowingness in their small canvass way. They tolerate the desperately seeking woman who visits regularly at the times they decree, privately amused at her indiscretions, failures and social ineptitude. They are entranced by their dour son’s new girlfriend who, in her jolly effervescence, is on their wavelength. The slight change in their behaviour, which only amounts to a brief admonishment to the hapless woman for turning up when she has not been invited, represents the only real dramatic shift in the film. It decimates her. Otherwise everything remains dull but they don’t see it that way. For them this is a life of ups and downs but to the viewer they are little more than perturbations on a flat-line graph.
It is billed as a comedy and it has some of the same qualities as The Office in this regard. More funny peculiar than funny ha ha, most of the time. With our toes curling and our horror mounting at the wave of banality swamping us, we are transfixed by the awfulness of it all.

I have my own childhood memories of my council estate family house and its mausoleum of a front room, my father (an undoubtedly clever man, if right wing and gender-discriminating) doing the Telegraph crossword and picking his horses for the day and my mother, loving but generally flattened by the unchanging days and months and years. Remembering this, Another Year brings cold recognition to my bones. Yet this is life. It is somehow horribly authentic and makes me ask whether I view it with the angry snobbery of someone who did flee for a different landscape or, more to the point, whether I can dredge up some empathy for their human capacity to make much of little and be happy with their lot. That’s it, actually. The film makes me feel less of a person for my deeply prejudiced view of the family’s unflinching humdrum, self-satisfaction.

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