Directed by Louis Malle, Damage (1992) is a drama based on a novel by the same name written by Josephine Hart. The film stars Jeremy Irons as Stephen Fleming and Juliette Binoche as Anna Barton. Today’s post is solely based on the film, not the novel.
This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of the film Damage (1992). Beware of spoilers.
Damage (1992) – Plot Summary
Stephen Fleming is a politician currently living in London with his wife (Ingrid) and his teenage daughter (Sally). He also has a son named Martyn, who is living on his own.
During an event, Stephen meets a young woman (Anna Barton). She introduces herself as a close friend of his son. Both individuals cannot take their eyes off of each other.
Later on, Martyn introduces Anna as his girlfriend to his parents. Unable to fight his attraction to Anna, Stephen initiates an affair with his son’s love interest.
One day, the Flemings and Anna decide to go out and have dinner together. Ingrid is not very fond of Anna and begins to question her past. Apparently, Anna’s brother passed away at a young age due to “love”.
After dinner, Stephen and Anna meet up again for sex. This time, Anna reveals more details about her brother’s passing and hints that her sibling had incestuous feelings for her. Then, Anna reminds Stephen that she hates possessiveness.
As time passes, Stephen’s obsession for Anna grows stronger. The politician goes as far as following the young woman to Paris, while she’s on a vacation with his son.
The whole situation becomes unbearable for Stephen. He wants to leave his wife for Anna. However, she dissuades Stephen from doing so. Anna believes that there is no need to change the status quo, as Stephen will always have “access” to her as long as she is with Martyn.
One day, Stephen finds another man in Anna’s apartment. His name is Peter, and he is Anna’s former lover. Angry and jealous, Stephen confronts Anna. She cries profusely and tells Stephen that she slept with Peter the night her brother committed suicided.
During a family getaway, Martyn announces that Anna is now his fiancée. That same night, Stephen goes to Anna’s room. On his way out, he notices Sally looking at him. The father ignores his daughter, pretending that nothing had happened.
Back in London, the Flemings have lunch with Anna’s mother (Elizabeth), a four-time divorcee. The woman highlights Martyn’s resemblance to Anna’s late brother, which leaves her daughter quite distressed. Meanwhile, during a ride back to her hotel, Elizabeth warns Stephen to stop the affair.
Anna refuses to let Stephen go and rents an apartment just for their sexual encounters. One day, Martyn finds out about that same address and decides to visit it.
When the young man opens the door, he finds his father having sex with his fiancée. In shock, Martyn takes a step back but he stumbles upon a railing. After losing his balance, Martyn falls to his death. Stephen rushes to check upon his son. Meanwhile, Anna quietly leaves the building.
The news about the affair gets out. Stephen’s marriage is over and he resigns from his job. Despite of what happened, Stephen is still trying to reach out to Anna. Therefore, he goes to see Elizabeth. During their conversation, Stephen realizes that Anna is hiding in one the rooms. He eventually finds her. However, the two do not exchange a single word.
A retired Stephen is now somewhere in Southern Europe. The man reveals that since the incident, he has seen Anna once more. She was at an airport with Peter, holding a child.
The final scene shows Stephen looking a photo of him, Anna and Martyn together. Then, he closes the epilogue by saying that “she was no different from anyone else”.
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Damage (1992) – Ending Explained
The ending scene of Damage is sort of intriguing to say the least. So what did Stephen mean when he said “she was no different from anyone else”?
First of all, Damage is not a love story with a tragic ending. No, Damage is a film about lust and obsession. Let’s be honest here, Stephen was never in love with Anna. What he felt for that young woman was, in very simple terms: a strong sexual attraction.
Anna was an escape for Stephen’s dull life. As Martyn said, his father always appeared to be somewhat “cold”. The type of man that does not let emotions dictate his actions. That said, Anna was probably the first person ever to stir up such intense feelings in him.
The former physician feels an intense need for things to make sense. Stephen enjoys having some type of order and control over his life. Unfortunately for him, Anna does not fit in any category. She and the whole situation are completely out of his control. Needless to say, that drives Stephen insane.
Now, what’s so special about Anna? Nothing really. She is a beautiful woman but her looks are not what makes her special to Martyn (and Stephen). It’s all about how she makes them feel.
Seeing Stephen looking at the photo shows that he is finally coming to terms with what really happened. In the end, there was nothing substantial about his affair with Anna. What he felt was simply a very strong physical attraction towards a stranger. Their connection was never going to lead them anywhere.
The affair had dire consequences for Stephen and his family. However, unlike Anna who gets to walk away from the drama, Stephen had to stay and face the aftermath. The man lost his wife and his son in the process. One is dead and the other one doesn’t even want to look at Stephen any more.
That said, if one takes lust out of the equation, there was nothing really special about Anna. She was just a regular woman, hence, no different from anyone else. Also, seeing Anna with another man’s baby kills the “fantasy”. This side of Anna makes her become less “object of desire” and more human.
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Damage (1992) [DVD]
Stephen Fleming vs. Anna Barton – Who Is More Damaged?
There is no shadow of doubt, that Anna Barton has problems. Apparently, this woman has no problems in double-timing her boyfriend with his father. On top of that, she also has no qualms about fleeing the scene when things get too difficult. Actually, she didn’t run away. In that particular scene, Anna exited the building in a very calm manner.
It’s kind of confusing, if one thinks about. Did Anna plan the whole thing? Was she trying to cause drama in the Fleming family? The film hints through Ingrid’s venting session that Martyn got the address by chance, but did he? Who knows…
In my opinion, Anna is either a very damaged person or a sociopath. At this point, she might be both. The way how she reacts to Martyn catching her in bed with his father is very telling of who she is as a person.
First things first, if Anna really loved Martyn she wouldn’t have slept with Stephen… Second, she didn’t even feel sorry when Martyn caught them in the act. There was no desperation, it’s was more like an “oops” type of moment for Anna. Third, the woman didn’t even react at the sight of her fiancé’s lifeless body laying on the floor. That’s very sinister to say the least. One could attribute her reaction to shock, but she just seemed so uninterested in the whole situation.
Now, what about Stephen? Is he damaged too? Well, if he wasn’t, he is now. Moving to another place, won’t make Stephen move on nor forget the tragic incident. Even if there is a small part of him that still longs for Anna, he knows that it will never happen. Especially now, that his object of desire has a baby with another man.
Stephen loves the idea of Anna, or what she used to be in his memory / fantasy. However, none of that matters in his current life. Although, Anna lost someone she loved in the past (her brother), Stephen lost his entire future. Let’s see, the former politician lost his son (Martyn), his marriage is over and I doubt his daughter is still talking to him. Basically, he lost the respect of everyone in his family.
Just to recapitulate: Anna Barton is a damaged person, and Stephen became one too. That’s why damaged people are dangerous, they can move on while leaving a trail of havoc behind.
Damage is a very interesting film. The storyline is actually simple, but each viewer will interpret it differently. Their own set of morals and values will determine their opinion on the characters.
For instance, when I was younger I used to think that Anna was a homewrecker. As an adult, I still think Anna has questionable morals. But nowadays, I believe Stephen is just as bad as Anna.
Stephen is not an innocent old man who fell into a honey trap. The man knew that having an affair was wrong, yet he kept seeing Anna. Even after his son’s death, Stephen still has the audacity to tell his wife that he had no regrets. Needless to say, as a viewer I don’t feel sorry for this man.
Actually, in my opinion, none of the characters in Damage inspire a lot of sympathy. As I said before, the leads are a total mess, but the side characters don’t deserve much empathy either. So, on surface level, one could say that Martyn and Ingrid were victims of the affair, but in no way, are they perfect.
Let’s start with Martyn. What is his “sin”? He’s guilty for being oblivious and sheltered. Unlike Anna, Martyn lived a relatively trouble-free childhood. The young journalist said it himself, when he brought Anna to the family’s estate.
Martyn even complained about his early days being a little bit “too perfect”. Is that even a thing? If this person thinks that having a “perfect childhood” is something negative, that also says a lot about himself.
Now, let’s move on to Ingrid. What is her problem? She is a woman who hides behind her husband’s achievements. Who is she? Stephen’s wife? The mother of Stephen’s children?
Ingrid comes from a well-off family, but she never managed to branch out on her own. However, she is not completely spineless. The woman still managed to divorce Stephen, after she found out about the affair.
Now, here is an interesting question: what if Martyn was still alive? What type of decision would Ingrid make regarding her marriage?…
Despite of not liking any of the characters in the film, all of them felt real to me. In my opinion, Damage has a very intimate story that deals with sensitive topics such as lust, obsession, loss and trauma. Having said that, Damage may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s definitely a noteworthy watch.