The Lake House
In the Korean film Siworae, a man renting a seaside home finds himself exchanging letters with a woman living in the same rental ... two years apart. He's in 1997. She's in 1999. It seems the mailbox is a time portal of some kind, so she's able to tell him about things before they happen. And he can "fix" things for her before they become a problem. In the process, they develop a romantic attraction and attempt to meet up in the future. Clever idea. And Hollywood, always willing to recycle a clever idea, does so once again by reuniting Speed co-stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in The Lake House.
In this Americanized version of the tale, relationally frustrated Chicago physician Kate Forester vacates a beautiful lake house in 2006. She leaves a note telling the next tenant where to forward her mail, mentioning as an aside that the unsightly trail of paw prints leading to the front door was there when she moved in. But before any new tenants arrive, an old one visits the mailbox and plucks her letter out. Architect Alex Wyler, whose estranged father built the lake house decades earlier, has just purchased the rundown home of his youth and is in the process of sprucing it up ... in 2004.
Alex is perplexed by Kate's note. No one has ever rented the place. He looks for the paw prints, but finds none. That's because they haven't been left yet. Like the Korean film that inspired it, The Lake House proceeds to eavesdrop on the correspondence between these two detached souls—connected over time by a mystical mailbox—and develops a rooting interest in their attempt to bridge the gap.
We see the fallout from a man putting ego and career ahead of his family—a valuable warning for workaholic dads needing a priority check. Not that crusty old Simon Wyler was always so selfish. He once "worshipped" his wife so devoutly that he designed and built the lake house for her when Alex was just a boy. But shortly after that, Simon became a famous architect who let professional and artistic ambitions consume him and drive his wife away, leading to a deep rift between him and his two sons. Alex tells his little brother, "Dad knew how to build a house, not a home."
Kate is a caring physician and Good Samaritan. When she realizes she can communicate backward in time to Alex, she shares information that will help him (even putting a scarf in the mailbox and warning him of an unexpected snowstorm). For his part, he takes advantage of this strange phenomenon to serve her with acts of kindness. Characters who harbor bitter resentment toward loved ones bear scars, proving that it's healthier to forgive.
Alex's father explains how good architecture that is meant to stand the test of time considers its surroundings in nature, especially its relation to primary light sources. He doesn't intend it as such, but that little speech about being "captivated by the light" can double as a powerful metaphor for a majestic life constructed with sensitivity to Christ (John 3:19-21), and the beauty that comes from being captivated by Jesus.
[Spoiler Warning] After nursing an unhealthy grudge, Alex finally puts resentment aside and rushes to his father's side when he's taken ill. A final twist in the romance advocates delayed gratification and the belief that true love waits—not in a sexual sense (though viewers could apply it that away as well), but by recognizing that a relationship's long-term health may require that patience trump impetuousness. Similarly, in an age of impersonal e-mails and instant messaging, the film has a romantic attachment to letters written in one's own hand.
The mysterious metaphysical premise that allows two people to communicate two years apart is never explained. Was it fate? God? Viewers are left to draw their own conclusions. A religious man crosses himself upon hearing that he may be on death's door.
A brief scene shows Kate wearing a low-cut top. We see various couples kissing, once quite passionately. It is suggested that Kate and her boyfriend have shared an apartment for over a year. Alex's co-worker eyes him lustfully.
A man gets hit by a bus, which also crunches a car. Kate's mother casually discusses a novel in which a guy breaks a woman's neck with an axe.
Crude or Profane Language
Fewer than 20 profanities, but several are brash abuses of Christ's name. There are also a "g-d--n" and two s-words.
Drug and Alcohol Content
While no one gets drunk, nearly everywhere the camera turns it picks up people drinking alcohol, either at home, in bars, at parties or in restaurants. Kate's beverage of choice is wine. Alex's is beer (Budweiser gets prominent label time). One of Kate's co-workers consumes martinis.
Other Negative Elements
Kate allows herself to be drawn in by—and kisses—a man she barely knows. Because she and Alex see their love bloom via long-distance, faceless correspondence, the film may feed someone's romantic notion that a soul mate waits in an Internet chat room somewhere (where lonely hearts also encounter heartache, deception and online predators).
What the sci-fi thriller Frequency did for fathers and sons, The Lake House does for incurable romantics. This is a sweet time-warp story that, despite asking audiences to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, adheres pretty well to its own internal logic. I could've done without the profanity, but Argentinean director Alejandro Agresti does a marvelous job of avoiding other offensive content that a dyed-in-the-wool Hollywood insider might've thrown in just to get a PG-13. Agresti's visual style is equally impressive. He celebrates beauty in the big city, turns the glass-walled lake house into a window on the lives of very private people, and uses clever split screens to simultaneously show Alex and Kate's closeness and distance.
More than anything, it's wonderful to watch as the main characters grow to love each other based on friendly conversation, not physical attraction or some personal agenda. Sandra Bullock was drawn to that, too, noting that the couple avoids "the superficial song and dance that always happens when people first meet and are trying to present their best side. ... Because of the unusual nature of the connection there's no embarrassment and no fear of sharing all of yourself because there's a part of you still saying, 'Well, this doesn't really exist,' or 'Even if it does, I'll never meet this person so what's to worry about?' What makes them fall in love so deeply is the utter fearlessness they have in revealing their vulnerabilities up front."
She's right. They have no reason to believe that a future exists for them, yet they behave unselfishly anyway. And while each is in an emotional rut, they don't look for answers with indiscriminate Sex and the City-style hook-ups. Tenderness. Selflessness. Restraint. It's nice to see those virtues on the big screen again. Of course, after the lights came up at the screening I attended, one middle-aged man commented, "If she really loved him, she would've sent him a newspaper with the winning lottery numbers in it." Who says guys aren't romantic?
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Keanu Reeves as Alex Wyler; Sandra Bullock as Dr. Kate Forester; Dylan Walsh as Morgan; Shohreh Aghdashloo as Dr. Anna Klyczynski; Christopher Plummer as Simon Wyler, Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Henry Wyler
Alejandro Agresti ( )