All the Vermeers in New York revolves around a relationship that is one-sided through most of the film and pits a man’s loneliness up against a woman’s inability to be the least bit relational. We do not know the reason Mark is so angst ridden and Anna so inauthentic, but neither are represented in a way to be blamed for who they are; you just wish they were better people. This may be why the movie is one of those you love or hate. If you relate to Mark and Anna’s situation (and perhaps even to their lack of maturity) you find reasons to like it. If you don’t relate to the characters, you just see two people who are fairly normal and should learn to be adult enough to behave differently.
The pace of the movie may be too slow for many tastes, but it doesn’t take long to want to tell Mark to leave Anna alone and find one of those women he can fawn over or to tell Anna to get over thinking she is the only one in the world who matters. But that misses the point, because they may love each other. At least we come to think it may be possible for them to do so. That is one of the peculiarities of the film. It moves in real time for ten minutes or so and skips a day or two to only return to another few minutes in real time. This is the pattern of the whole movie and though that is the case with most movies, you are very aware of it here if only because you have to surmise what the characters have been thinking at those times the movie does not show. We get few clues as to what those thoughts may be, though we do know they concern love or something akin to it and on Anna’s part perhaps a change of heart. When this happens, however, it is too late and not too late in the way one would think. That punch in the gut scene serves as the second to last scene in the movie.
The last scene has Anna at the Metropolitan thinking on the words of Proust and it makes you realize why you can never really come to dislike either Anna or Mark, why in fact you do like them and may even like them very much. The soliloquy that closes the movie mirrors the meeting of the film’s two main characters and it lets the film show again the most potent player in the movie who has never said a word and remains off screen save for a few minutes. (You can see her picture at the top of the post.)
Through their mutual admiration for it, Vermeer’s portrait of a young girl introduced Mark and Anna to one another. Her unattainable nature comes to represent their downfall just as her consistent presence that has endured generations represents a sort of eternal destiny they share with each other and anyone who has come to value ideal beauty over the real world. When she is wedded to the words of Proust, you come to know that Anna and Mark are not really of this world as their aesthetics never really make them citizens of this place. An undercurrent through most of the movie is homesickness and a longing to be in another place.
At the film’s conclusion you are left either perplexed or satisfyingly unfulfilled, probably both. You despise the despair or timidity of the characters or you say people like them can never be together and empathize with them for that reason. In the end you wonder why Mark and Anna relate at all before it hits you that we are all at one time or another a Mark or Anna.