The life you save may be your own

Daniel Craig portrays Joe, a professor who participates in the rescue of a young boy from a freak hot air balloon accident. Another rescuer is killed, setting off a chain of events that challenges his philosophy of life and love, and threatens to destroy his relationship with his girlfriend, played by Samantha Morton.

A tale of chance encounters that test the bonds of love

The plot in an Ian McEwan novel tends to turn on a bizarre intrusion of violence that undermines a character's faith in others and himself. In Atonement (2002), it is the rape of a young aristocrat for which the housekeeper's son is falsely imprisoned. In The Child in Time (1987), it is the disappearance of a writer's 3-year-old daughter. In The Innocent (1990), it is the butchery that a meek English technician finds himself having to perform on the former husband of his German lover. And in The Comfort of Strangers (1981), which was adapted by Paul Schrader and Harold Pinter into a chilling 1991 film, it is the very cold comfort that an unsuspecting English couple discovers in the stranger they meet in Venice.

Enduring Love, adapted from a 1998 McEwan novel, begins with beguiling images of a glorious day in the country. In a vast, verdant meadow, Joe (Craig) and Claire (Morton) spread a picnic blanket and prepare to share expensive wine. Joe, who lectures at a university in London, is poised to produce a ring and propose to Claire, a sculptor with whom he is already living. But their romantic idyll is shattered by the abrupt

Looking in the mirror — a scene from Enduring Love.
appearance of a hot air balloon racing out of control just above the grass and carrying a young passenger with it. Joe rushes to save him, as do several others who happen to be nearby. Each grabs a mooring line, but a sudden gust hoists them all up into the air. When four of the would-be rescuers, including Joe, let go of their ropes and fall harmlessly to the ground, the fifth, a physician from Oxford, is sent soaring. He eventually plummets to his death, though the boy all had tried to save manages to float down to safety.

Joe attempts to make light of the incident during a dinner with friends, but he is haunted by the possibility that, by letting go of the rope and enabling the balloon to ascend higher, he was responsible for another's death. He is also pursued by one of the other failed rescuers, a religious fanatic named Jed. Joe wants to have nothing to do with this long-haired, fervent stranger, particularly when Jed proclaims enduring love for him. But Jed becomes a tenacious stalker, Joe's nemesis, and the sharer of his secret. Distressed and obsessed, Joe begins to question the validity of his work and to lose his hold on sanity. His encounter with a hot air balloon ends up puncturing his relationships with students, friends, and Claire.

Enduring Love is an interrogation not only of whether love endures but even of whether it exists as anything but a biological urge. Proud of his intellectual prowess, Joe delights in provoking listeners by dismissing love as nothing but an evolutionary mechanism, an illusion developed by the species to ensure reproduction. But his argument ceases to be merely a

Enduring Love
Dir. Roger Michell; writ. Joe Penhall, based on the novel by Ian McEwan; feat. Daniel Craig, Samantha Morton, Rhys Ifans (R)
clever piece of rhetorical bravado as his ties to Claire come undone. This is far darker material than director Roger Michell confronted in either Notting Hill or Persuasion, and he has not quite gotten the lighting right. The classroom in which Joe lectures is a movie classroom, not a convincing facsimile of contemporary space where ideas, ambition, and apathy collide. Though Daniel Craig does a competent job, the role of Joe demands the ostentatious self-effacement of a demonic impersonator such as Jeremy Irons or Dirk Bogarde. Rhys Ifans' Jed is more crackpot than zealot.

Suspicious of why her dead husband grabbed the moor line to a runaway balloon, his widow notes, "He was afraid of heights." This is a film that does not touch the depths.

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