“The Aftermath” proves that “War is Hell” – but also that “Love Ain’t Just a Stroll in the Park, Either”. Based on a novel of the same name, the movie explores the aftermath (duh!) of the Allied victory in Germany during World War II. But it has a laser focus on a couple who are having problems in their marriage, but the reasons and the solutions to these issues are magnified by the war setting. Hamburg has suffered from a huge bombing effort by the Allied forces. But when the British troops move into town, they displace the few people who still have housing that stands upright. This makes for a lot of animosity and hatred by the locals. There are searches and inquiries to find any Nazi sympathizers. There are Germans who just wanted the War to end – but now they have gotten their wish – and it is not all that it seems. The couple in the story must deal with past tragedy, and current temptations.
Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) is sent to Hamburg several months after the War has ended. She has missed her husband Lewis (Jason Clarke), who is still very active in the British Forces to handle the reconstruction of a devastated city. They have been apart for years, including the time when their young son died during The German Blitz on London. Rachael was heartbroken, and Lewis could not (or would not) even take leave from duty to attend the funeral. She expects that the two of them will be able to settle down together in this new place, so they can work out any differences. But that will not be the case for Rachael and Lewis. Rachael wants time to be with Lewis, so both of them can heal from their difficult past.
The British have taken over a large mansion outside of town. It is owned by German architect named Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and he lives there with his daughter. His wife was killed in the bombings, so he is distressed and forlorn. But he speaks perfect English, so that is why is can communicate with Rachael so well. Lewis allows Stefan and his daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) to remain in the house, using the upper servant’s quarters. But Stefan has not been cleared by the British, so he has limited permissions to travel. Rachael is surprised that she and Lewis will be in this stranger’s house. But Lewis is called out on duty so often that he is seldom around. That leaves Rachael to ponder the past, and gaze upon the present – in the form of Stefan. There is an attraction that begins as a low-energy spark, but it soon engulfs both Rachael and Stefan in passionate flames.
Rachael and Stefan are playing a dangerous game, hiding a secret love affair from everyone around them. Freda, his daughter, is also toying with a crush of her own, but it is with a young underground Nazi sympathizer. Lewis is spending so much working in the Forces, so he can avoid the emotional pain of his son’s death. There is so much suppressed anger and rage. There is so much suppressed grief and sadness. There is so much suppressed logic, that in the last portion of the movie – many characters make choices that seem very different than what the story has led to, up to this point. Can a German widower run away and find happiness with a British woman who has lost her only child? Can the actions of a British officer make any difference to improve the impoverished lives of the German population? Can a movie that slowly unravels the three-way love triangle be any more glacial to reveal any more details? Can the ending be any more out-of-whack with all the things that happen before it?
Keira Knightley does a beautiful job portraying Rachael. It is unfortunate that the story jumbles up her actions right at the end. Alexander Skarsgård is also very good as Stefan Lubert – the lone German in Hamburg who can speak perfect English. Who would have known, right? Jason Clarke does fine, as his role does not ask him to do that much. However, the locations and set pieces are fabulous. The scenes of burnt-out buildings, and the sight of the Lubert mansion is very breath-taking. The post-WWII cars and fashions are right on the money. It is the attitudes and morals of the characters that seem out of step with the surroundings.
General William Tecumseh Sherman made the phrase “War is Hell” come alive in our culture. But this movie also shows you that Love is not that much easier…
In Phoenix area – playing exclusively at the Harkins Camelview