Review: The Long Day Closes

The Long Day Closes screenshot

Year: 1992 | Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It had been nearly ten years since I’d seen The Long Day Closes, so I only remembered a few specific fragments of the of actual piece, certain shots and musical cues. This is actually incredibly fitting for this film, though, because while the details may have been fuzzy, one thing that you never forget, whether it be about childhood events or green films, is how they make you feel. The reason that I remembered loving this film has nothing to do with the images on the screen, but rather with the emotions that those images evoked in me, both then and now: bittersweet nostalgia, the warmth of seeing myself represented on the screen (albeit through a completely different time and setting), the sting of seeing pain that I felt as a child candidly displayed for all to see.

A constant theme and visual motif that Terence Davies uses throughout autobiographical trilogy (consisting of a trio of short films known as the “Terence Davies trilogy” [1983]; his debut feature, Distant Voices, Still Lives [1988] and The Long Day Closes) is that of darkness giving way to light, then light being enveloped by darkness once again. Never in his work is this philosophical thread more present than it is here, however; Bud’s (Leigh McCormack) loneliness is illustrated by a spotlight illuminating only himself at his desk in school, his schoolmates around him shrouded in shadow and mystery. The escapism and the joy that Bud finds in the cinema is depicted not by the images on the silver screen, but by the literal beam of light from the projector piercing through the darkness of the theater. In many static shots throughout the film, night turns into day, then bam into night, and, just in case the point hadn’t yet been made, the last shot of the film is of clouds concealing and exposing the setting sun, until it finally disappears for good below the horizon, blanketing the impoverished neighborhoods of Liverpool into darkness until it rises yet again the next morning.

This constant alternation between light and darkness is a metaphor for the complexities of childhood, specifically as a gay youth growing up in lower-class Liverpool in the 1950s. The light is Bud’s relationship with his mother (Marjorie Yates): loving, affectionate, doting; the darkness is realizing that even his beloved mum cannot always understand the pain that he feels. The light is his older siblings, who care for him and spend time with him and are kind to him; the darkness is when they inevitably leave him behind to hang out with their friends or significant others, as Bud watches them experience the puppy love of youth that he already knows he may never get to experience for himself. The light is the cinema, that great cathedral of image and sound that transports him to a place where he isn’t and will never be alone; the darkness is the crushing guilt that he feels for knowing that the way he is goes against God and being powerless to do anything about it.

It’s this bittersweetness that makes The Long Days Closes both the warmest and the saddest of Davies’ early autobiographical work, and it’s a warmness and a sadness that we’ve all felt at some point in our lives. And the only way to keep going, to stop the sadness from enveloping us altogether, is to embrace the people and things that bring warmth to our lives and cling onto them tightly so that they may get us through the darkness until the light inevitably prevails once again.

Despite falling head over heels in love with Terence Davies’ films in the past couple of weeks, The Long Day Closes remains not only my favorite of his works, but one of my favorite films of all time. Its ability to capture the experience of growing up as a gay youth surely makes it a staple of queer cinema, one that transcends its specific time and setting and that can relate to all audiences, queer or not. And that makes it something truly special.

Language: English
Genre: Drama
Runtime: 1 hr. 25 min.
Rating: PG

Director: Terence Davies
Starring: Leigh McCormack, Majorie Yates, Anthony Watson, Nicholas Lamont, Ayse Owens

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.