Intersection (1994) is about the intersection of lives at the three apices of the romantic triangle. It’s romance that could have turned comedic but, in the end, turns tragic — in the limited modern sense of that term. It is a fine movie, and anyone (which probably includes most humans) who has ever been at the intersection of one of those three sides will find something familiar here.
Vincent Eastman is a visionary architect much in demand, a builder of monumental structures; at the same time he is deconstructing his marriage with wife and business partner Sally Eastman. There is a nicely modulated inversion running throughout the film: as his buildings go up his marriage goes down. He is a man torn between wife and daughter on the one hand and lover on the other. As a stranger says to him at one point, “Are you lost?” Not really. He comes to final closure in more ways than one, but he is not lost, at least not in the way that he once thought.
His relationship with his thirteen-year old daughter complicates the triangle — and is, regrettably, the one loose end left dangling at the conclusion of this otherwise first-rate film. There is a poignant scene between the two of them after he has taken her to lunch: he has to choose between spending time with Olivia, the lover, and his daughter. It is set against the spidery backdrop of a long bridge, suggesting either the unbridgeability of their relationship or (as I would like to think) that father and daughter are able to bridge whatever differences they have. [On this symbolism of bridges, see my comments on Year of the Dragon.]
There is a line somewhere in Shakespeare that goes something like ‘ripeness is all’. It applies to Intersection. Vincent and Sally are too different from each other, as is made repeatedly clear in both ‘present’ action and in a series of flashbacks that dot the story. She is, in her own words, the planner, and he, the creative one. I’d put it more in terms of his being a romantic and she not. Now, neither a romantic nor a non-romantic are ‘wrong’ about how to deal with love and passion — just different. And for the one to try to make it with the other on any kind of long-range basis is a fine recipe for a train-wreck relationship. Their ‘ripenesses’ are simply too divergent ever to fuse at any point.
The other woman, however, is a romantic. Where Sally has a certain rigidity and solidity about her, Olivia is full of spontaneity and even giddiness. She is impulsive and giving; Sally, controlled and rather up-tight. It’s not that either woman is wrong or evil — they are simply different. The worst possible mistake you could make in relationships is, on my humble understanding, to get involved with a person who is emotionally unavailable to you — whatever that means in the case of any given individual. Of course, to avoid that error, you have to know who you are, in more than a superficial sense. Vincent didn’t, but he does figure it out, too late. In the screwy way that this bitch we call life sometimes will, his self-knowledge did him no good at all.
There are two motifs, if you will, that course through the film. In the flashbacks, which are of two types, the point is to bring out the difference between the two women in Vincent’s life. In those about Sally, Vincent seems perennially thwarted, sad, unsatisfied. She is too businesslike, a quality fine in business but not laterally transferable to love. There is a wonderful scene in which Sally and Vincent have a quickie in her parents’ house upstairs while a party is going on downstairs. He is facing the burning fireplace, and they both get turned on; she straddles him, fully clothed, with her back to the fire, and gets both of them off in a flash. He wants her to stay with him, but she rushes off, worried about how her dress has been mussed up. She leaves the room, and the camera pans back to Vincent staring at the bright flames in the fireplace. Dissolve to water running out of a tap as he washes his face: it’s a beautiful visual articulation of how Sally quenches as it were his unsatisfied passion that she will not or cannot stoke. Olivia, by contrast, has the feelings about sex and relationships that mesh with Vincent’s.
The other motif is that of time. Clocks and watches are important emblems throughout the film, and it is not insignificant that he meets Olivia at an auction at which he is bidding against her for an antique time piece. He has only so much time, and in the end it simply runs out on him — note carefully the very last scene in the film as the credits start to roll. His older friend and partner, Neal, had told him at one point that his (Neal’s) biggest mistake was that he never made the time he should have to do things with his wife before it was too late. It is a kind of judicious carpe diem topos purloined for visual cinematic ends from the great Dutch still lifes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Be sure to pay close attention to the incidental scene at the mailbox where the little girl offers him a sweet roll. On the one hand she reminds him of Olivia and helps him come to a decision about what to do; on the other, she appears out of nowhere as the only female in the film who gives him something just for the joy of giving and wanting absolutely nothing in return.
The overarching structure of the film is that of the ring composition of a journey, of Vincent’s drive in his Mercedes to meet his romantic destiny. The ending of that trip is a gripping illustration of the intersection of the metaphorical and literal intersections of human contingency and the uncontrollability of lives. Without going into details, I will only note that the film’s point of view becomes very clear: both women are, by a kind of fluke, allowed to live the rest of their lives each with her particular illusion about Vincent intact. And each is shown to be decent and kind to her rival although they could each have behaved exactly the opposite. I found it a rather moving solution to this triangle tale of the sort that one doesn’t often find — but here it works very well and emerges organically out of the story itself. A very fine cinematic moment!
I really liked this one.