Hope Gap: Life, Death, and Overturned Tables.

Grace and Jamie (Credit: Hope Gap)

TW: mentions of suicide.

Hope Gap, the William Nicholson directed 2019 drama film, explores Grace, the main character, reacting to her husband’s sudden announcement that he wants a separation the week before their 29th year anniversary. This surprisingly thought-provoking film navigates several important topics, namely death, loneliness, and life’s purpose, set against a backdrop of the Sussex coastline.

“I try not to think of you at all. I’m getting quite good at it, during the day. But at night I dream about you. Unfair, isn’t it?”- Grace

Grace, played by Annette Bening, has one clear need throughout the film: sincerity. The marital problems that she is most aware of stem from her belief that her husband is not being his true self with her, and is too malleable to share his thoughts and opinions. When discussing with her husband Edward, played by Bill Nighy, if he had any preferences for their anniversary, he simply answered that they could go out for dinner “if that’s what you want”, with no real conviction that this was what he also wants to do. Grace- rightly or wrongly, depending on your opinion of her- turned this into an argument about wanting Edward to want something. “Say you hate me,” she says, “say you want to leave me. Say you want to kill me. Tell me something real”. And this, right here, is the central message of Hope Gap: say what you need. In this scene, Grace needs Edward to help her understand him, and Edward needs Grace to understand that he no longer wants to be with her. If the couple had learned earlier on in their relationship to be real with one another, the film would be a grand total of 17 minutes. Instead, Edward refuses to open up and let his wife in, and Grace flips over the dining room table as a result of her need to assert control over the situation. Perhaps the overturned table is a metaphor for how much more merciful it can be to wreak havoc swiftly and painlessly, instead of dragging it out for 29 years and expecting the end to be easy. Perhaps the overturned table is 29 years worth of frustration bleeding out of a woman who has no idea what to say to a man she had once been able to tell anything. Or, perhaps it is simply an overturned table acting as the collateral damage of the brutal end of a marriage.

“So if after a while you don’t go on anymore, then I’ll know that the road is too hard and for too long. I’ll know that, in the end, the unhappiness wins.”- Jamie

After Edward callously announces that he has packed a bag and is leaving her for another woman, Grace is left at the now-upright dining table with their son, Jamie, who is played by Josh O’Connor. She spends weeks wallowing and sitting on the stairs, waiting for Edward to come back to her (“Is that why you don’t go out? Because you think maybe he’ll walk back through that door?” Jamie asks her one day), during which she makes many allusions to death and ending her suffering early: when pointing out that Jamie won’t leave, she asks him if it’s because “in case something happens to me, you’d feel guilty”, she frequently describes the separation as a murder, and during the meeting to sign the divorce papers she asks if it would have been more financially beneficial to her if Edward had died. The film’s symbolism presents one major question: if society perceives marriage as the epitome of a perfect life, what does it mean when it breaks down? What are you left with? The separation leaves Grace feeling like she’s been thrown in at the deep end, and staying afloat long enough to find a purpose almost causes her to drown.

“But if you do go on and bear it, terrible as it is, then I’ll know that, however bad it gets, I can last it out because you did before me.”- Jamie

Jamie and Grace have a heartfelt discussion about suicide two thirds of the way into the film. Jamie, who had been awkward around his parents thus far, finally asserts himself with his mother- but not in the way you might think. Instead of telling Grace that she shouldn’t take her own life, he tells her that- “out of my love for you”- if she could see no way to carry on living, he would understand and respect her decision, as he feels it’s selfish to ask her to live just for his sake. He reiterates that he isn’t endorsing such a decision and would be devastated by her loss, but it’s clear that giving her his support should she need it is actually less heart-breaking for him than the thought of her living miserably just because he asked her to. It’s the age-old argument of compassion for life, most often used surrounding topics like euthanasia. Personally, I can see and appreciate Jamie’s comments but I have yet to come to my own conclusion about if he was right or wrong to give her this permission; on one hand, Grace shouldn’t have to stay alive if she hates every second of being conscious, but at the same time there are numerous resources (that the film doesn’t show whether she accesses or not) that could assist her in recovering from these suicidal thoughts.

Overall, Hope Gap is a beautiful, albeit rather slow-moving, film that explores everything humanity constantly questions: what gives us purpose? How do we overcome loneliness? What do we do when everything we were certain of crumbles? It doesn’t necessarily hold all the answers, but it provokes meaningful conversations about what the answers might be, and that feels like it’s close enough.