Two Lovers was the last film Joaquin Phoenix made before he went mad, gave up acting and became a hip-hop artist instead. Hoax or otherwise, I wouldn’t blame him for abandoning his acting career having made this. Along with the usual anti-piracy messages, Two Lovers should really come with a few disclaimers before the main feature. Seriously. Do not watch this film if you have any sort of fondness for Gwyneth Paltrow. Do not watch this film if you are feeling in any way emotionally fragile. In fact, do not watch this film if you are feeling in any way human. If you happen to be a cyborg, then carry on, but keep your robot wits about you.
The intellectuals among you will recognise the plot from a Dostoevsky short story. Dostoevsky’s main claim to fame, as we all know, is that his name is great fun to pronounce. It’s quite fitting then, that the lead actors are satisfyingly named Joaquin and Gwyneth. Unfortunately that is where the fun begins and ends with Two Lovers, because the film is a harrowing, draining experience. If you’re the type who likes to discuss films with people, I’d strongly advise doing it before watching this if at all possible, because you’re not going to want to talk to anybody for quite a long time afterwards. Remember that feeling of infinite hopelessness you had after watching There Will Be Blood for the first time? It’s a bit like that, except you might cry as well.
Two Lovers is a love story; let’s make no bones about it, but it’s not the sappy, cliché-ridden waste of film-reel you might think it is. You will notice things in this film that you’ve seen before, but you haven’t seen these things in other films. Actually, you’ve probably experienced them in real life, and that’s what makes it so hard to watch if you’re not a cyborg. It’s not trivial stuff either, like that time when you were thirteen and that girl told you that your hands were sweaty and you cried. It’s the really soul-destroying stuff that hurt so much you didn’t cry at all; you just buried it away somewhere and became a full-time cynic instead. It’s impossible not to relate to Leonard, the hopeless loner who falls for the fickle girl, and it’s impossible not to grimace as you watch him do all the things you did, while being bitterly aware of the inevitable outcome.
It is beautifully shot, perfectly scored, and has strong performances from the two leads. But make no mistake; Two Lovers is a slow, methodical train-wreck of a film that is meant to be endured, not enjoyed. I loved it, and I have no idea why.