In life we are eternally caught at some point between two equal yet opposite extremes. With our lives stretching out from birth until death, you could say that these contrasting elements define all aspects of our lives.
Some people believe that where we lie between these two extremes is something which is under our control, that if we work hard enough or demonstrate enough commitment we will achieve all that we hope for. On the other hand some believe that the path of our lives is not set by our own hand, instead accepting that external forces such as luck or destiny exert ultimate control.
Woody Allen’s Match Point is a film which explores the impact of chance encounters, the often harsh realities of pursuing illogical love, and the consequences of surrendering control.
The film centres around four main characters who are linked through the bonds of family and love. We encounter Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) working as a Tennis Club Pro where he meets the wealthy and respected Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) who is keen to improve his game. Discovering that the two have much in common, a firm friendship is forged. Chris catches the eye of Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) who begins to charm him at her family’s country estate. Wandering the house alone Chris encounters another weekend guest, the smouldering Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson) who he is instantly and irresistibly attracted to. However he soon discovers that Nola is already in a relationship, and is in fact the fiancé of Tom.
The relationship between Chris and Chloe grows in predictable fashion from friendship to love, and with Chris agreeing to tow the family line they soon settle into a comfortable and luxurious life together. However all is not so rosy for Nola, the other family outsider from the wrong side of the tracks, who sticks resolutely to her own path. This staunch independence only adds to her appeal, with Chris doing whatever he can to keep her in his life.
The music and theatre of opera are constant presences throughout the film, deliberately bubbling to the surface from time to time. Traditional operatic tragedy could be seen to follow a formulaic series of events – boy meets girl from a different class structure, they fall in love and then a terrible event occurs with often fatal consequences. Match Point retains echoes of this classic structure, playing out in dramatic and sometimes disturbing fashion.
Lust vs Love. Can the heat and magnetic pull of lust ever coexist with love? In Chloe, Chris sees sweet kindness, innocent beauty and the dependability of a loving heart. However he feels powerless to overcome his attraction to Nola’s unattainable sensuality and comfortable sexuality. Surrounded by such complex romantic dilemmas Chris may think he is blessed, but soon enough it seems he is more likely to be cursed.
Passion vs Security. Should we choose between spontaneous connections and the predictable pattern of a relationship? Chris connects with Chloe in traditional form – they meet, they fall in love, they marry. With Nola, passion is played out in secret under the direction of an urgent need; a decidedly potent and addictive concoction. The deceptive freedom of a hidden affair is balanced against the structured pressure of family responsibility.
Rich vs Poor. Given the chance to live within the privileged and protected world of the wealthy could we choose to leave it all behind? We first meet Chris as someone trying to find his place in the world. As he becomes more and more a part of the Hewett family, his place is determined for him. He welcomes this comfortable lifestyle free from financial stress, believing that he will be buying himself a form of freedom. In reality he becomes impossibly trapped within a prison of his own making.
Life vs Death. At critical moments can we trust ourselves to preserve life no matter what the personal cost? As humans we have the ability to both create and take life, a power which most of us rarely reflect on. Chris is one who does reflect on this power, believing that he can save himself in the process. While he may convince himself that his actions are altruistically focussed, reality reveals the truth of his selfish motivations.
Match Point is superbly acted and the characterisations are entirely plausible for the roles being fulfilled. The performances are helped by wonderful chemistry between cast members and the precisely written, natural sounding dialogue.
Allen uses the environment beautifully in this film with interiors perfectly matched with the feelings they are intended to convey. Take for instance the warm cluttered shabbiness of Nola’s apartment, and the intimidating and cold organisation of wealth displayed by Chris and Chloe’s home. Likewise exterior shots are masterfully set and used to ground the characters in reality. Just like in life, sometimes it rains and sometimes the sun shines, and while it may be cold outside it can still be hot inside.
The film flows comfortably, with events played out over a pleasing period of time. Tension is built up subtly as the characters move towards an ultimately frenetic conclusion. Loose ends are tidied away but we are kept wondering until almost the last moment as to whether Chris will be lucky in the end.