Sliding Doors written and directed by Peter Howitt
Sliding Doors, originally released in April 1998, looks at how a person’s life can change dramatically based on one moment playing out differently. The story shows what happens when the main character, Helen (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), misses a train that she is running to catch, and conversely if she were to get there in time.
I have always been fascinated by this premise and can think of a number of situations in my life where such a seemingly insignificant event led to bigger and better things or, in some instances, great pain and sadness.
The other main characters in Sliding Doors include: Helen’s boyfriend Gerry (played by John Lynch), who we discover early on in the movie is cheating on her; Helen’s male interest in one of the two realities, James (played by John Hannah, who I loved in Four Weddings and a Funeral, 1994); and Gerry’s mistress Lydia (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn).
All of the main characters (except for Lydia) have a close friend that they turn to during difficult times and process life with. Helen has Anna (Zana Turner), Gerry has Russell (Douglas McFerran) and James has Clive (Paul Brightwell).
[SPOILERS MENTIONED BELOW]
Helen is a PR executive who loses her job at the beginning of the movie. Her boyfriend, Gerry, is a writer working on a novel, who is having an affair with Lydia. In one scenario, after leaving the office where she was let go, Helen catches a train just before the door slides closed behind her. Helen sits down next to James and they strike up a conversation. After she gets off the train she arrives home early, much to the surprise of Gerry who is in bed with Lydia. Helen then leaves Gerry (they had been living together at the time), moves in with her friend Anna, and eventually begins dating James.
I find American-born actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s British accent believable, having lived and studied in London, England for a semester when I was in college. I also think the chemistry between Helen and James is magical, especially their banter when they are hanging out, and as their relationship grows stronger. There are so many great quotes in Sliding Doors and one of my favorites is when James says to Helen:
“Sometimes we are plugged into people’s lives when they just need to be cheered up and reassured and it turns out that for some reason, it’s your job. We don’t know why, but in your case, it’s my job.”
In the other scenario, after Helen leaves the office where she lost her job, she misses the train and watches the door slide closed in front of her. From there en route home, someone tries to steal her purse, she bumps her head, and ends up at the hospital. By the time she gets back to the flat where she lives with Gerry, Lydia has gone and Helen is none the wiser that her boyfriend is having an affair.
The rest of the movie explores how Helen’s life goes on in both realities. It looks at relationships (romantic and friendships), writing (Gerry loses the inspiration to work on his novel when Helen and he break up) and lies (that we tell others and ourselves).
A heads up to those in the Adoption/Loss/Infertility (ALI) community, it had been years since I watched Sliding Doors and I had forgotten that there are a few first trimester pregnancies and miscarriages depicted in the movie, including storylines with conceptions that happen easily and unexpectedly.
This is one of those movies I have seen so many times that watching it is like being with an old friend. Writer and director Peter Howitt truly has a way with words, which makes his characters so quirky, likable and human, such as when James says to Helen:
“I don’t want to be a confusion in your life. I don’t truly. But, something’s happened to me since I met you, that I wasn’t expecting and I don’t really… well, well, wasn’t expecting… repetition of expecting, must buy a thesaurus.”
Every time I watch Sliding Doors I notice something new and this time I realized how Howitt incorporates other sliding doors, beside the initial train sequence setting in motion the two scenarios/realities that play out in the film. He seems to do this especially at pivotal moments in the movie, like when Helen finds out that James is married (though she doesn’t know yet that he and his wife are separated) and the entrance doors to the office in which she is standing open and close a number of times behind her.
I also find it interesting that in both scenarios, by the end of the movie, Helen ends up leaving Gerry and meeting James. I think that begs the question how much these “sliding door” moments in our lives really change things. In some ways I like the idea that such experiences can make a significant difference, and in other ways I find comfort in believing that no matter what happens to us we can still make our way to the people, vocations, and situations that are best for us in our lives.
I highly recommend Sliding Doors, a great romantic comedy, which will also make you think about your life, and how you got where you are today. It is available on DVD and digital download. Even if you have watched it before, you may enjoy another viewing, as I definitely see the storyline from a different perspective, as an adult in my late thirties with a husband and children, then when I watched it in my early twenties, as an unmarried grad student, when it first came out in the theaters.
Have there been “sliding door” moments that changed the course of your life?
Do you think you would be where you are now and see things the way you do if not for those moments?
Kathy Benson is Exhale’s Contributing Editor. Kathy is a Domestic Engineer with three children (two here and one in Heaven) trying to live mindfully and find joy in the journey after dealing with secondary infertility and pregnancy loss for over five years. She blogs at Bereaved and Blessed and you can follow her on Twitter @BereavedBlessed