THREE STARS - Intriguing
The question of fate and its power over the choices we have is an intriguing question of human experience.
What if, by the coincidental happenstance of a child playing with a toy, you were delayed by seconds and missed your train, which put you on a path with choices far different from the path you would have taken if you had not missed the train?
In other words, are the lives we are now living the result of coincidences and happenstances? Or, is there an intelligence and a predetermined plan for our lives which small happenstances cannot truly derail?
This question is explored in most of its complexities in Peter Howitt’s “Sliding Doors.”
Taking its title from the everyday experience in modern life of approaching the sliding doors of trains and elevators seconds too late and then having to take a different train or elevator, the film explores the two different paths such a seemingly unimportant event could result in for a person’s life.
The person to whom this happens in this existential experiment is Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow). In “Sliding Doors,” the two paths she treads are different and yet ultimately woven into a single fabric. Like two paths which take off around a mountain in opposite directions, they nevertheless end up in a similar place with ultimate experiences converging.
In both paths, Helen becomes pregnant, she loses the child, she struggles with her relationships and moral choices, she is deceived and she is loved.
But in the end, on one path Helen dies, while on the other path she lives and goes on to meet the lover of the other path through the coincidence of a missed elevator door. As the film ends, it obviously implies that Helen is ultimately going to end up with her “predestined” lover, James (John Hannah).
This is an intriguing solution and greatly strengthens the depth of the film.
“Sliding Doors” seems to be saying that small happenstances CAN have major impacts on our lives. We could die at the end of one path as compared to another. And yet, on either path, there are human experiences which are so universal that they will be present on any path we take.
These universal experiences have to do with the major decisions of life: Will we risk loving another human being? Will we be honest and faithful and moral? Will we forgive and give people a second chance, or will we leave those who deceive and mislead us?
We would agree that these larger spiritual decisions are the makings of a person’s character, and every person on every path will have to navigate the spiritual choices and realities in the ultimate destiny of their lives. These cannot be avoided.
This truth that every person must face common spiritual decisions is presented most clearly in the life of Helen’s first boyfriend Gerry (John Lynch). An obvious user of people, willing to not only live off of Helen but also to be unfaithful to her, Gerry is described by his friend as a “morality-free zone.”
The consequences of his choices are clearly shown within in the film. No matter what path Helen treads, the ultimate betrayal of his selfish spiritual choices devastate Helen and end their relationship.
The same implication is made when Helen becomes pregnant in both paths with men to whom she is not married, and in both cases, the happenstance of accidents cause her to lose the child.
Using the effective technique of having friends counsel both Helen and Gerry through their choices, the film deepens the impact by confronting them with the morality of their choices. This is humorously done when Russell (Douglas McFerran) confronts Gerry not only by his lack of morality but also by his lack of reality. Their dialogue runs: “Do you want my opinion?” “Will I like it?” “No, but it will be based on reality!”
In the end, each of us will have either lived a life of purity, honesty, faithfulness and love, or we will be broken by the selfish and immoral choices of ourselves and others.
“Sliding Doors” is an intriguing film about the ultimate spiritual choices of any path we are on.