Sliding Doors (1998) (c15)
Lying in hospital following a terrible accident which cost Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) her baby and almost her life, Helen asks: ‘What if?’ What if the last few months had been different? What if I had found out Gerry (John Lynch) was cheating earlier? What if I had caught that train? But the doors closed and the train left the station leaving Helen standing on the platform and the whole sorry story replays. No. Wait. Rewind. Come down the stairs to the platform, through the sliding doors of the train, and what if becomes possible. At least for a while. The two stories play along together. Firstly the slow breakdown of her life. First her job, then her relationship with Gerry who is seeing Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn) while she is working. Secondly, the ‘what if?’ she catches the train, catches Gerry, gets out quick and restarts her life with her friend Anna and a new man James (John Hannah). In the imaginary ‘what if?’ life, everything goes perfectly, at least for a while.
It’s amazing quite how perfect a ‘what if?’ life can be when we put our imagination to the task. James is the perfect gentleman at the right moment with a friendly word or suggestion. ‘It’s my job to cheer you up.’ Perfect scenarios are never quite what they seem. As the two versions of Helen’s life start to come together, James turns out not to be quite so perfect and Helen ends up under a van. Hospital. One life has a future, the other was just fantasy.
How often do we reject the real journey for one of fantasy? How often might we ask the ‘If only?’ or ‘What if?’ questions. As Gerry says, with a twinge of selfish guilt, “you don’t want to go asking yourself ‘what if?’ ” Oh no? Well why not? I suggest that this is precisely what we should do. Not necessarily after the event, nor about things we cannot effect. When there is a choice to be made the path should be trod carefully and with decision. At the end of the film we are left watching with baited breath as both versions of Helen lie in a hospital bed. We are willing one to live. It is not always the destination that makes us who we are, but the journey.
The path that Helen was on could not change, for that was just fantasy, but perhaps the experience has made her future brighter. Jesus said in Matthew 7 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
We are left at the end of the film with the tantalising question, ‘What if?’ Not the ‘what if?’ of the past, but ‘what if?’ for the future. We have our own journey to begin as we let them go back behind the ‘Sliding Doors’.