January 21, 2016 6:28 AM EST

Our ideas of love are often shaped more by what’s outside us than within. Maybe that’s why we melt when we see devoted older couples–even if we know nothing about them, we think, Somehow they’ve done it right. In Andrew Haigh’s delicately shaded 45 Years, Charlotte Rampling–in a superb, Oscar-nominated performance–and Tom Courtenay play such a couple. Nearing their 45th anniversary, Courtenay’s Geoff learns that the body of a woman he once loved, long missing, has been found. He’s shaken, yet the news affects Rampling’s Kate more deeply. Her vulnerability, fueled by jealousy, becomes a thing of lacerating power.

Kate is surrounded by people, yet her sense of isolation is so resplendent that we’re torn between basking in it and turning away. The truth of 45 Years is that even devoted couples comprise individuals who are essentially alone. If they’re lucky, the bridge they’ve built between them is strong. Rampling’s face is that of a woman who knows her bridge has washed away.


This appears in the February 01, 2016 issue of TIME.

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