WARNING: SPOILERS. Don’t read this if you haven’t already seen the 2011 film Weekend. Please check this beautiful work of art for yourself, then come back and perhaps read my thoughts on this beautiful film.
Andrew Haigh’s debut feature film Weekend is the perfect example of a simple story told in an extraordinary way. The premise is very straightforward: two guys have what they believe to be a one-night-stand but as the eponymous weekend progresses, they come to realise what they have is something altogether more meaningful. However, Haigh’s beautifully minimalist direction, along with some incredible lead performances, elevate this work to a height far above most other simplistic love stories. Although I wouldn’t call Weekend simplistic, because ultimately it’s about much more than what appears on the surface.
The film introduces our main character, Russell, naked in a bathtub, in his most vulnerable state. When he goes to meet with friends, at one point his hat (which he wears indoors, is taken off by someone, and he begins to fuss around with his hair as if he’s embarrassed to be seen uncovered in some way. Within the first five minutes of the film, we’re seeing this clear contrast between how comfortable he is while alone, against how he is around even his closest friends. At that moment, Russell is clearly established as a man lacking in self-confidence, possibly in his appearance, but more importantly (as we later come to discover) in his sexuality. Throughout the film, but particularly this scene with his friends, Russell is shown to be detached from the world around him, portrayed visually with the use of shallow depth of field. This particular scene shows all the people around Russell as out of focus as if to exemplify the fact that he feels as though he does not belong anywhere, like a jigsaw puzzle piece in the wrong box. This changes when he meets Glen, but even then that shared focus is inconsistent. Whenever he feels most comfortable, they share the spotlight, but whenever their relationship is shaken, they are separated by blur. This kind of visual storytelling is so powerful and does so much in developing this clearly troubled character with little to no words. It also visually depicts what it feels like to be intimate with someone. When you learn to trust and care for another human being, it can feel like the world just fades around you, and that’s shown on screen the closer and closer Russell and Glen become. This is also shown with many long shots of the two of them separated from anyone else, where even if something catches their attention off-screen, the shot still lingers on the two of them. It’s really simple, yet beautiful, filmmaking.
Although, despite how strong the filmmaking is here, the dialogue is equally important in getting the film’s message across. In their many chats, Glen often brings up the topic of heteronormativity in British society, specifically how it seems to be commonplace for straight people to show public love and affection for one another, while gay love appears to a taboo topic. Glen does not understand this, while Russell suggests people may just be embarrassed to commit to public displays of affection. Glen doesn’t buy this, and that appears to be the first sign of his one major flaw: stubbornness. He refuses to believe anyone could operate differently to him. However, Russell’s major flaw – his lack of self-confidence – is still addressed here, as he clearly applies his own shame to other people, possibly in some attempt to feel normal. Or perhaps he is too insecure to admit that he himself feels that way, and so he states his subjective state of embarrassment for who he is as objective fact. Either way, his anxiety shines through in his comments. Later on, Russell gets upset with Glen and accuses him of being too narrow-minded and childish, on the day before Glen leaves for America. It’s the scene where you see Glen at his most vulnerable. He barely even fights the words coming out of Russell’s mouth, and simply endures the barrage of criticism. The next morning, Glen makes himself and Russell coffee in bed, just as Russell did for him the first time they slept together, showing a very clear change in both of their characters. For what may be the first time in the whole weekend, Glen goes out of his way to commit a selfless gesture for Russell, and that moment is the turning point for Russell’s character.
The final scene is one that shook me to the core in the best way possible. It’s incredibly simple: just the two of them, standing on a platform, waiting for a train. However, the way this crucial scene plays out is absolutely perfect. It opens on a wide shot with the two men exchanging their goodbyes, as the camera very gradually begins to zoom. Russell begins to admit his feelings to Glen and is met with some pushback. They hug, and as the camera gets closer and closer, they exchange a kiss, out in public for everyone to see. They are met with a wolf whistle somewhere off-screen, and while Russell seems to still be bothered by this occurrence, the shot does not break. Now, after years and years of denying his own identity and being ashamed just by the circumstances of his birth, he can finally, publicly, to the whole entire world, admit to what he is. And eventually, the camera stops at a close-up, as the two men share one last fleeting moment of intimacy before Glen exits the film for good. As the sustained take shows, while the encounter is brief, the moment feels like a lifetime. The film ends on a melancholic Russell, staring out onto the urban landscape that has caused him so much distress throughout his life, exposing himself for all to see. His relationship with Glen may have been short, but by the end of it, there were signs that despite the pain and heartbreak that Russell must endure, he will fight on.
And perhaps one day, he might just learn to love himself too.