The Long Day Closes is available on Criterion Collection Blu-ray and All 4. The Neon Bible is available on All 4.
THE LONG DAY CLOSES (1992)
By Neil Baker
Released in 1992, The Long Day Closes often feels like Terence Davies’ most personal film as a series of childhood memories play out on screen, each wrapped in the joy and darkness they still carry. The result is a poetic and introspective exploration of memory, loneliness, and the power of cinema. Set in Liverpool during the 1950s, the film centres around Bud, a young boy navigating the challenges of burgeoning adolescence, emerging sexuality and religion. His only escape is the magic of the local Picture House, where a silver window allows him to take flight. In essence, The Long Day Closes plays out as a series of impressionistic vignettes, capturing moments from Bud’s everyday life through the lens of his imagination, fears and desires. Dreamlike sequences and carefully selected music create a tapestry of memories that spark the viewer’s own deep, long-forgotten childhood thoughts, fears and dreams.
The Long Day Closes is a deeply personal reflection on Davies’ upbringing and the power of cinema. Central to this is Leigh McCormack’s performance as Bud, a sensitive and introspective young boy who finds refuge from the challenges of his life through film. At the same time, silent moments hint at Bud’s emerging sexuality as he watches local builders work before catching himself, uncertain whether he should be looking.
The Long Day Closes is a cinematic masterpiece and, in my opinion, Terence Davies’ most striking and poetic film. As we join Bud on his ethereal journey into cinematic art, self-identity and family, we are immersed in a world of memories; some of these are light, others are dark, but they all have the power to sweep us back in time as Davies allows us to reflect on our own childhood through Bud’s eyes.
THE NEON BIBLE (1995)
By Agnes Sajti
Based on John Kennedy Toole’s novel, Terence Davies’ third feature film, The Neon Bible, steps away from his UK-based work by telling the story of a young boy growing up in the deep South of the US during the 1940s. As the film opens, young David (Jacob Tierney) sits in a train carriage, emotionless, his inner thoughts taking us back to his emotionally fragile mother, Sarah (Diana Scarwid) and abusive and absent father, Frank (Denis Leary). During this time, David spent most of his time with his mother’s sister, Aunt Mae (Gena Rowlands), a woman he adored and admired. To Aunt Mae, he wasn’t just an annoying little kid but a little human with thoughts, ideas, hopes and dreams. David’s young eyes only ever saw Mae’s good side, not her burned-out nightclub singing career and the struggling relationships she hid under a cloak of optimism.
As David navigates through adolescence, he finds solace and escape in two worlds: Mae’s defiance and the comfort of religion. Here, The Neon Bible portrays the clash between traditional religious values and the changing world around David, including the world of his beloved Mae. The film examines how the fervent religious beliefs of the townspeople influence their behaviours and attitudes. While some characters find comfort and purpose in their faith, others use it as a means of control. Here, David’s search for identity and meaning is surrounded by contradiction and confusion, leading him to question the dogma imposed upon him.
Anyone familiar with Davies’ work will recognise these key themes and his distinct visual style and attention to detail. The film’s cinematography and haunting soundtrack create a sombre and atmospheric ambience that reflects the characters’ inner struggles. The recurring image of the neon Bible only further emphasises the contrast between the superficial veneer of religious fervour and the underlying complexities of human experience. Like his dream-like reflections of childhood memory in The Long Day Closes, the coming-of-age themes in The Neon Bible feel timeless and universal. David is unsure of himself and unable to initiate friendships or relationships due to his nerves, making his relationship with Aunt Mae even more important to his sense of belonging and safety as he navigates his own path and beliefs.
The Neon Bible is a story of beginnings and endings as both David and Mae leave their home behind, yet as with many of his films, this is a mere snapshot with no clear answers or direction of travel. It’s a reminiscence that is both nostalgic and harrowing. Much like Davies’ previous work, The Neon Bible is more emotionally impactful than plot-heavy; by the end, there is so much repressed pain and passion that it climaxes in catharsis. Life goes on, with everyone carrying their emotional baggage, and David’s emotionless, unreadable expression suggests he is both looking forward and stuck in the past.