Ethics & Public Policy Center

Déjà Vu

Published in EPPC Online on April 1, 1998



Déjà Vu, directed by Henry Jaglom, stars the director’s wife, Victoria Foyt, as Dana, an American in Israel on a buying trip who meets a woman in a café who tells her a sad story of her life. “We were soulmates,” she tells her. “He was the love of my life.” But “life got hold of us” and tore them apart. “Nothing ever seemed so real again; all the rest of life has seemed like a dream.” Her love was an American GI in Paris. He went home to break up with his girlfriend leaving her with the twin to a pin he had made for her. The other pin he kept as a token that the two would be together again. The strange woman leaves the pin with her. Dana tries to find her to return it, but can find no trace of her. The hotel she says she was staying at in Tel-Aviv turns out to have been torn down years ago. So she flies to Paris and makes a tour of jewelry shops until she finds the one that made the pin. She persuades the old jeweler to put it in his window in the hope that the woman will pass by and see it.

She then takes the train to England. When she hears a woman in an adjoining seat humming the old World War II song, “There’ll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover,” she gets off the train on an impulse at Dover. There, walking on the white cliffs she meets a painter, who is trying to paint them. His name is Sean (Stephen Dillane) and both of them realize the instant attraction between them. Though she is engaged and he is married, both of them speak of “nostalgia for a place that has never been and may never be” and feeling “connected to some inner part of yourself that you never knew was there.” The rest of the film consists of a series of ever more remarkable coincidences designed to demonstrate that these two are, like the “soulmates” described by the woman in the café in Jerusalem, meant by God (or Somebody standing in for Him) for each other.

The combination of romantic love and supernatural sanction makes this a natural for Hollywood treatment, one might think, yet here is this strange, independent filmmaker mining the very familiar mother-lode. Does he at least have some new slant on the subject, some qualification to Hollywood’s characteristic faith in following one’s feelings? No. The spokesman for the filmmaker appears to be, of all people, Vanessa Redgrave in the role of Skelly, a free spirit who is always rushing off somewhere to new romances and adventures and who counsels the lovers to live for the moment.

True, her free spiritedness has a price, as we learn when she tries to persuade her brother John (Noel Harrison) and sister-in-law Fern (Anna Massey) to take their mother (Rachel Kempson, Miss Redgrave’s real-life mother) into their home. “We always get the burden,” complains Fern, “while she goes off around the world” to new jobs and new boyfriends. But this is meant to seem ungenerous and ungracious of her. Skelly’s current boyfriend, hits the right note when he says he recognizes that he cannot keep her but is still able to “rejoice” when, periodically, she blows back into his life.

So when Dana consults with Skelly about her passion, she is inclined to skepticism about “This illusion of desire that attaches you to someone else.” If she ditches her fiancé to follow it, would she not “condemn myself to following the next one and the next” in the same way?

“Would that be so terrible?” answers Skelly. Well, yes it would actually. She is able to see no contradiction between the pretense of seeing her new lover as a “soulmate” and the casual acceptance that new soulmates can be expected to come along with some frequency. No wonder she says she’s “not sure there is any such thing” as the illusion that Dana is frightened of.. “An illusion,” Skelly reassures her, “is the sense of something real coming close.”

There is nothing more to be said about such moral and intellectual idiocy, though Jaglom is a skilled enough storyteller and observer of people that those who are less than punctilious about philosophical coherence and who still have a sentimental attachment to the very Hollywoody idea of fated love will find much to enjoy in this picture. Just don’t allow yourself to be inspired by it to leave your spouse.

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