Four Quartets movie review & film summary (2023)

Next, consider the performance. Throughout the film, as Fiennes speaks, he cajoles, urges, explains, teaches, asks, and prays. He stands. He sits on the chair. He sits cross-legged on the floor. He gestures. He dances, stomping on the stage. We may sometimes feel lost with the poem’s language, shifting from elliptical to impenetrable, mixing gorgeous lyricism with zen-like aphorisms. We may not understand it, but Fiennes persuades us that he does. He is utterly immersed in the poem, and he beckons us to join him there. 

And now, consider it as a film. The sound design, with subtle sounds of waves and birds, enhances the mood, but some of the stage lighting effects might have been more effective in the theater than on the screen, and the brief cutaways to scenes of nature are more distracting than illuminating. We often hear people say about actors with beautiful diction that we would be willing to hear them read the phone book. I’d be willing to hear Ralph Fiennes read the phone book, but it is much, much better to hear him challenge us with these words. Poems should be alive, and listened to, not just confined to a page. And that is reason enough for Sophie and Ralph Fiennes to make this film and for people who love language and literature to see it.

That does not mean it is intended for everyone. I admit I broke the rules of movie-watching by keeping a copy of the poem on my lap, and now and then, I stopped the film to replay a line. I would recommend the same to anyone unfamiliar with the poem. For those who are open to its challenges, it is a meditation on time, loss, and connection, and almost a century later, those themes are just as vital as they were when Eliot wrote them. 

Now playing in theaters. 

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