It’s a phrase used when the options are both dangerous, literally translated, perhaps, the choice between hell and drowning. In the film, Deep Blue Sea, it’s the choice between morality and passion. Hester chooses the latter, and it’s not long before she realizes she’s doomed, for the object of her awakened love, the man she left her conservative, upper-class marriage for, has no understanding or capacity to reciprocate this kind of all-consuming love, the kind that, for Hester, there is no return from.
The movie starts with a stunning sequence in which Samuel Barber‘s Violin Concerto plays earth-shatteringly on as Hester attempts, in slow methodic fashion, to gas herself. (If for just this reason you should see the movie—the powerful effect Terrance Davies, the director, gives to a simple look or gesture by overlaying an arresting musical score). Hester is saved by neighbors, and we spend the remainder of the movie observing her stare out the window of the dreary flat she and her lover live in, onto the bleak streets of a bombed-out London, smoking languorously from her cigarette, ghostlike, flashing back upon her recent past while her existence in its current version is gone, presumably, forever.
The movie is based on a play written by Terence Rattigan in 1952, and I had a hard time transplanting myself into this era; the dire, bleak nature of Hester’s choice remained elusive to me. I think this is because in my world this kind of choice is simply there, permeating every move I make, for are we not challenged openly at every turn by the question: Are you inspired? Are you pursuing your passions? For Hester’s era, the question itself was ridiculous, so forget the answer, let Hester be the anomaly, the outcast. But for our era, there’s a sense of shame, I suppose, either way—I’m being irresponsible or I’m settling. I’m the devil or I’m drowning in the deep blue sea. One wonders if we’ve made any progress at all.