A film one might expect to be about a bored housewife who runs off to Paris and, as in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina, becomes transformed into her more glamorous, worldly self, Dominic Savage’s The Escape provides no such escapism. Rather, it is a pensive drama about depression, coping with domestic unhappiness and the confusion and guilt that accompany it.
As a wife and mother with two small children and a self-centred husband, Tara (Gemma Arterton) feels suffocated and trapped. Her melancholy gradually increasing, the sense of her oppression is palpable. With a suggestion of subtle abuse, her spouse Mark (Dominic Cooper) treats her more like an object than a partner – one custom-built for motherhood, household chores and sex – showing little sympathy when she admits her misery and asks to take an art class, as she is confined most of the time. Although he loves her, Cooper’s character is disconnected from her feelings, thinking only of his own, and remains entirely oblivious to the fact that his wife is despondent and cries during sex.
Tara’s mother (Frances Barber) does not help the situation with her fatalistic advice about enduring the dreariness and being grateful for her privileged lifestyle. After some eye-opening excursions to London, where she buys a book about tapestry that inspires her, the young woman reaches a breaking point of despair and bolts to Paris. The trip sadly provides little catharsis, but only more disappointment. In a scene mimicking De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, a growing flirtation unfolds with a man in a museum, but nothing is as it seems. The narrative’s one shining light is the protagonist’s rescue by a kind older woman (Martha Keller) who gives her some helpful philosophical advice.
The movie’s tone is dark, realistic and pessimistic. Arterton’s performance is remarkable and moving; although her zombielike demeanour throughout is toneless, it is descriptive of depression. Tara’s relationship with her husband follows a certain neglectful spouse cliché, but is otherwise complex not simplistic, as are her love/indifference toward her children. Cooper’s portrayal of the self-satisfied but perplexed, lovelorn and devastated Mark is excellent. Veteran star Martha Keller exhibits her superb acting in her cameo appearance as the compassionate Anna.
With sweeping vistas, moody close-ups, low angle shots and pans, the cinematography is effectively evocative of nuances of confusion, despair, questioning and hope, and the sound complements well to amplify wistful tension.
Pondering the idea of reconciling one’s true self with expectations and reality, The Escape is a probing, tough, poignant and thoughtful movie about relationships, depression and the human condition.
The Escape is released nationwide on 3rd August 2018.
Watch the trailer for The Escape here: