Now, Voyager (1942)

"Independence! That's what I want to talk about."
"Now, Voyager" is a movie about self-discovery, one so beautiful craftes and stylishly executed that it's almost impossible not to get lost in the saga.
A daughter is held under the almost despotic rule of her mother, she longs for freedom. When the day finally arrives, it takes her several weeks to fully accept herself and be comfortable in her own skin.
At the movie's opening, Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis), is a quiet and self-conscious "old spinster". She has wasted away in her room for years, the only times she's had fun, it was curtailed by the ruling maternal force, played with an evil uncaring by Gladys Cooper.
Charlotte remembers a time on a ship when she and a young man had a small romance. It was interrupted by her mother who made her sorry she even stepped foot outside her cabin. Her mother controls everything about her life: what books she reads, what she wears, etc. She has no outlet for her pent up emotions which generate outbursts at night, manifested with sobbing sessions.
Charlotte needs to get away.
She meets a psychiatrist who helps her rid herself of the dreadful self-loathing and self-doubt. She becomes a woman of fine graces. How much more fitting it is that she truly rediscovers herself on a ship. She meets a mysterious man named Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid) while off on a vacation.
The two immediately have a connection, one that almost breaks off as soon as it forms due to Charlotte's nervous tics. Jerry is entranced by the hand-wringing beauty. He finds her fascinating and she enjoys the attention. Being wanted is not an unpleasant feeling.
But her journey isn't over yet and she'll have to overcome several more obstacles before it's all over.
First of all, Bette Davis is a revelation. The movie has her transform from a "old, fat spinster" to a woman still unsure of herself, but willing to try living her own life.
Between Davis and Henreid, you'll never quite find chemistry that matches this. It's so tender and wonderful, they must go down in film history as one of the best on-screen couples.
They are so good that every scene lacking one of the two seems to be missing something. Near the end of the film, everyone indulges in sugary-sweet cliches...and that's okay. It's a great movie, blending noir and heavy drama into a palatable film experience.
The film is very well-done, relying on no real exceptional camera moves nor fancy techniques. Instead, it focuses the lens on the actors and the splendid job they do bringing the script to life.
"Now, Voyager", which gains its titles from a Walt Whitman poem, is heartbreaking because of the swift road to self-discovery. We all know that the road is much bumpier than a Sandra-Bullock-esque makeover and a pair of new heels. Somehow Bette Davis realizes this too and puts it into her performance. She lets us feel the off-screen pain and anguish.
Her performance is such a rarity that sometimes we wish we could leap through the screen and be with her in the room.
The film isn't as sharp as some other movies, like the recently seen "The Thin Man" or as gritty as others such as "The Maltese Falcon". Still, it's a movie that many have not heard of and that's disappointing.
If there was ever a romance that I could require everyone to see, this might be it. It perfectly shows that not everything works out as planned.
Life can be cruel; but it can also be filed with incalculable and exquisite beauty.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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