A Cinematic Trip To Greeneland

CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard reviews The End of the Affair, a Columbia Pictures film starring Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore and Stephen Rea. It is a presentation based on the 1951 Graham Greene novel.
Graham Greeneland is an island off the coast of God where the natives are mostly outcasts, the weather is usually wet, renunciation is a religion, and betrayal is a sport.

The literature of this Greeneland is full of envy and resentment. Because he canÂ't swim to Him, the writer plays God. And no more so than in GreeneÂ's 1951 novel, The End of the Affair.

ItÂ's not enough that the adulterous wartime love affair between Bendrix, a novelist, and Sarah, the wife of a cabinet minister, should mean sudden death. It also means that giving up sex makes you a saint. To Neil Jordan, who directs his own big-screen adaptation of the novel, this must all have seemed somehow IrishÂ…a Butcher Boy or Crying Game.

No wonder Bendrix, played so suspiciously by Ralph Fiennes, falls for Julianne MooreÂ's Sarah. In London during the blitz, she is the only bright color in an otherwise pervasive gloom. And no one is more monochromatic than her hapless husband Henry, played by Stephan Rea.

The guilty lovers are troubled less by hangdog Henry then they are by God. ItÂ's a God Sarah doesnÂ't believe in, until a V-1 rocket lands directly on their delicious nest. Persuaded that Bendrix is dead, she promises to forsake all fleshly pleasure for a miracle, but, of course, she doesnÂ't report the miracle to Bendrix. So he just thinks heÂ's dumped.

Reviews by CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard
Happening, a year and a half later, to meet a Henry who is at last suspicious of his wifeÂ's behavior, a hateful Bendrix actually hires a private detective to find her secret - and steal her diary.

And now I must insult the intelligence of readers of the novel in order to preserve the credulity of moviegoers needing their surprise-twist fix. All IÂ'll tell you is that itÂ's one thing to cuckold Henry; it is quite another, and more dreadful, to try to cuckold God.

Up to a point, not counting composites and missing mother, Jordan is faithful to GreeneÂ's novel, which was itself autobiographical. Nor need we be a novelist, nor a God, to fall in love with Julianne Moore. But after Bendrix reads SarahÂ's diary, Jordan just canÂ't help himself. He must pry apart the fingers of his clenched fist of jealousy and rage to let in a little joy, to visit sunlit Brighton.

I have to say IÂ'm grateful. As is often the case on a visit to Greeneland, the novel never let us breathe.

For the novelist, consciousness was almost a disease. Even GreeneÂ's dreams were gruesom - of old women with ringworm, white puffy witches and black-skinned servant girls whose touch was death; of empty cupboards, slashed throats and murderous Chinese agents. No wonder his alter ego Bendrix, at the end of The End of the Affair, cries out to God as if to curse himself: "Leave me alone forever."

Written by John Leonard