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Sliding Doors

Sliding Doors title card

Year - 1998
Studio - Miramax, Intermedia Films, Mirage Enterprises
Stars - Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah, John Lynch, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Zara Turner, Douglas McFerran
Director - Peter Howitt
Writing Credits - Peter Howitt
Music - David Hirschfelder

Synopsis

Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) is fired from her job with a public relations firm in London and, distraught, she hurries to catch the Tube train so that she can return home to her boyfriend, Gerry (John Lynch). But the train doors close just before she can enter.

But then the film gives us another alternative: Helen enters the train just as the sliding doors are closing. Those two paths of Helen's life are presented in alternating scenes. Let's call them path 1 (Helen missed the train) and path 2 (Helen caught her train). In path 1, she goes to street level to take a taxi, when a mugger knocks her to the ground. She is taken to a hospital to treat a head wound, then she returns to her home where Gerry, surprised by her early arrival, attempts to cover up evidence of an affair earlier that day. In path 2, she arrives early to find Gerry in bed with Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn), and she angrily leaves.

Sliding Doors poster

Following path 1 (missed the train) Helen and Gerry continue to live together, but she becomes increasingly suspicious about his behavior. She takes a job making deliveries for a sandwich shop. Lydia, frustrated with Gerry's indecisiveness, actively attempts to subvert his relationship with Helen. Path 2 has Helen meeting James (John Hannah) on the train, and eventually becoming romantically involved with him. With his encouragement, she starts her own PR firm.

Helen discovers she is pregnant with Gerry's baby. In path 1, she learns that James has a wife and believes she has been deceived by him, as well as by Gerry. But James explains that he and his wife are actually separated, but acting as if they were still together in the presence of his terminally ill mother. But right after hearing this, Helen is struck by a car and rushed to the hospital. In path 2, Helen arrives for what she thinks is a job interview, but actually is a trick by Lydia to have her find them together again. Rushing out of the apartment, she trips and falls down the stairs, and rushed to the hospital.

At the hospital in path 1, Helen dies with James at her side. In path 2, Helen survives but tells Gerry to leave the hospital room and her life, forever. Later, having recovered, Helen prepares to leave the hospital and enters the elevator at the same time as James, who had been visiting his ill mother. James picks up an earring dropped by Helen, and they look at each other with a curious sense of recognition.

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It could be argued that Sliding Doors isn't a film blanc as there is no fantasy involved, the two parallel stories are based in reality. In any event, its presentation of alternate realities responds to a question that all of us have likely thought about many times: how would my life be different if I'd done A rather than B?