It all centers around how their reunion unfolds, fully embracing the definition of "sentimental," where Shane and Oliver's words and actions are marked by a profound level of sadness, which transitions to tenderness in "light" of an unexpected "moon," and are characterized by both subtle and overt moments of nostalgia that cause their journey in Higher Ground to come full circle.
After three months of separation, Shane an Oliver's initial reunion in the Dead Letter Office is not what we'd expect. That's almost entirely due to the nature and duration of their separation, and it's resulting frustration, exacerbated by their heart-wrenching interaction in Washington, D.C.---a scene worth its own deconstruction to be explored another day.
From the moment Oliver's desk chair swivels clockwise, an unraveling begins to occur. In an interesting turn of events, Shane instigates a confrontation born of the hurt of discovering her moved desk, her attempts to discern the reason the focal point of she and Oliver's entire pre-kiss interaction. In the process, each Shane and Oliver begin to "walk" through the sadness, and, quite frankly, the longing, that characterized their months apart. Simultaneously, they create a whole new conflict where neither is capable of articulating the depth of their distress, or, conversely, their love for the other. Increasingly frustrated by their inability to overcome the handicap, Oliver instinctively reaches for Shane.
From the moment their lips meet, a gentle exchange occurs---Oliver initiates the kiss, but Shane kisses him twice more. In total they kiss three times, once for each month they were separated. This single, decisive, act eliminates their physical and verbally-induced distance, while reaffirming their emotional solidarity---called back to by the score---which begins the moment they kiss. The way Shane caresses the hair at the back of his neck, and the way Oliver nudges her nose, are tender and extremely affectionate displays we've never seen the pair exchange before. They take their time physically separating as the scene progresses, Oliver content to simply hold her hands in his as the pair attempts to acknowledge the past and move forward.
So much of Shane and Oliver's post-kiss interaction reaches back to their date at the beginning of the film, triggered by the kiss itself. The kiss calls them back to the last moment they were able to fully and effectively communicate with one another, when Shane and Oliver's feelings for each other were clear and mutual, and draws them back to that place in the present. As they engage in conversation once more, this time calmly and quietly, they express how much they missed each other, Shane verbally, and Oliver demonstratively, producing Shane's masterpiece of a napkin from his jacket pocket---the pocket in which he keeps those things closest to his heart. Oliver recalls the recent past of Norman and Rita's engagement, and his father's failed romantic entanglement, as he holds Shane's hands in his, not unlike the night of the date as he prevented her from falling outside the Lounge. This particular day, it seems, Oliver prevented Shane from "falling" into a complete emotional spiral. Once again, the past finds expression in the present.
The sentimental closing moments of Higher Ground seamlessly link the sadness of Shane and Oliver's separation, the tenderness of their reunion, and nostalgia of their "walk," accompanied by a score that seeks to evoke the same.
We discussed the other day the breadth of "Claire de lune" both as a score and piece of poetry. Both of these aspects converge in this scene. "Clair de lune" simultaneously acts a callback to their date, and creates an even deeper interpretation for what occurs throughout the scene and the process by which it occurs, particularly at the points which the piece can be heard.
Perhaps the most easily drawn connection between the "moonlight" aspect of "Clair de lune" and its reuse in this overtly daytime scene is the fact that their moonlit "walk" began with their first kiss, their second kiss triggering the reemergence of the piece in this scene. At the same time, they seem to "walk" back through that evening in this moment as discussed previously. Unlike their date, "Clair de lune," and, by extension, Shane and Oliver's moment together, will not be interrupted, but allowed to "bloom to its full potential." Whereas the score came to an abrupt halt at the appearance of Steve earlier on, the score is allowed to come to a satisfying and full conclusion here.
What we haven't quite addressed yet is exactly why "Clair de lune" corresponds with Shane and Oliver's kiss in this particular scene. In addition to the connections to their date, there's also an expression of Verlaine's "Claire de lune" poem playing out here.
Remember that Verlaine's piece paints a picture of melancholic souls, "sad beneath their fanciful disguises" who "...sing in a minor key/ Of victorious love and the opportune life," but "do not seem to believe in their happiness," their "song[s] ming[ling] with the moonlight." Shane and Oliver are these souls. The sadness and longing of their pre-kiss interaction is a reflection of their "lack of [belief] in their happiness." For example, Oliver recalling his "true and transparent statement" about desiring their first date not be their last, "that, if [they] had ever completed a first date, would have been borne our in action," was quickly soured by his accusation that Shane, "[didn't] miss him." Of course, this is quite opposite from the truth, as Shane's frustrated attempt to rebut his argument with the content of her letters clearly implies.
But remember what the moonlight does for this scene in Verlaine's poem, "the still moonlight, sad and beautiful...sets the birds dreaming in the trees/ And the fountains sobbing in ecstasy," reflecting, "tall slender fountains among marble statues." As I suggested the day I first introduced the poem, the moonlight here absorbs the melancholy and reflects back something full, detailed, and quietly beautiful.
The same can be said of Shane and Oliver's kiss. The kiss, like the moonlight in the interpretation of the poem, seems to absorb all of the pain and longing (sadness) of their past three months apart. Taking Papa O'Toole's advice, they "take [back their lost] time," one kiss at time. It bridges the gap between their "walk" and the present---almost as if the intervening time didn't exist. Simultaneously, it acts as a reset button for the mess made of their reunion.
As a whole, "Clair de lune" artistically captures the state of Shane and Oliver's hearts, providing a manner in which we can fully explore those elements beyond their actions and dialogue. From its initial introduction during their "walk," the score created a restore point which Shane and Oliver could reach back to simply through a kiss. At the same time, "Clair de lune" provided a mechanism through which we could better understand the depths of the kiss and its transformative power not only for the moment, but for Shane and Oliver's journey throughout Higher Ground as a whole.
More From This Series:
Part I: A Stroll Through The Score | Part II: The Places We Must Go | Part III: Homecoming
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