The Lake House

The Lake House. Vertigo Entertainment 2006.

Before watching the movie:

This seems like a strange pairing for a movie that seems to want to be known as a pensive romance. Reeves and Bullock headlined Speed as well, but that was an action blockbuster, which they’re both better known for.

Similarly to how I was wondering how the original source of You’ve Got Mail got things going without the weird social construct of anonymous chat rooms, it’s my understanding that the central concept here is that they send letters to each other, but they’re in the same place a few years apart. I’m again curious to see how that gets started, but also how it can be sustained.

After watching the movie:

Preparing to move to Chicago for her new job, Dr. Kate Forster leaves a letter in the mailbox of the lake house she was renting, asking the next tenant to forward any mail for her. Architect Alex Wiler arrives at the house to fix it up and finds her letter, which has some details about the house that don’t seem to match what he can see. So he writes back. Kate, unsettled by a failed attempt to save a man struck by a car in the street in front of her, returns to the house and finds his letter. Through the dialogue that ensues, they quickly discover that while Kate is in 2006, Alex is in 2004, and while exploring that impossible fact, they quickly fall in love. However, the quirk in time that brought them together seems to have also fated them to remain forever apart.

This is the most grounded performance I’m aware of from Keanu Reeves. Known for Bill and Ted, The Matrix, and John Wick, I wouldn’t have expected “speculative romance leading man” to be a role anyone would have thought to give him. Bullock seems to have managed to get known as an actor who can do any kind of story, but I’m just surprised that someone recognized that Reeves could work here.

It’s not often that a story about time travel can get away with having no visual effects to illustrate it. The only fantastical visual depicted is the mailbox flag moving on its own in one time because one of them moved it in the other time. That and a couple of scenes where the two are at the same place in different times across a split screen as their correspondence is translated into a conversation, but that’s just cinematographic shorthand, not a total departure from the natural world.

The temporal logic is almost self-consistent, as there’s only one time a change to what happened is definitely made. However, that one kind of unravels the whole story, so it’s still best to not look too closely, as with any time travel story. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that that’s a major departure from the Korean movie it’s adaptating.

Love stories with a gimmick to make them stand out are the best kind. Speculative fiction that focuses entirely on the human effect of the weird thing is the best kind. This has crinkly cerebral elements and a squishy emotional throughline that come together to make a memorable film.

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