True love is a priceless resource which people both neglect and squander. The divorce statistics bear that statement out. The fallout from the recent era of permissiveness has been the devaluation of committed relationships and exultation of promiscuity. In his latest film, director Franco Zeffirelli ("Jesus of Nazareth", Romeo and Juliet, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, The Champ) challenges this trend. He has chosen to film a literary work which is consistent with the major thematic concerns of his previous efforts: love as a catalyst that is capable of transforming lover and those around them.
Young David Axelrod (Martin Hewitt) is desperately in love with Jade (Brooke Shields), the beautiful 15-year-old daughter of Hugh (Don Murray), and Anne (Shirely Knight. Jade's family is known in the community for a bohemian lifestyle; they even allow David to have sex with their daughter in her bedroom. In contrast to the openness of her family, David's home life is dull. His parents are radical political activists who ignore him.
But one day Hugh rebels against David and Jade's obvious and consuming passion for each other. He expels David from the household for a 30-day cooling down period. The lovesick youth then starts a fire on their porch, hoping to redeem himself in the family's eyes by putting it out. But the flames, like his love for Jade, go out of control. The house is destroyed. David is confined to a psychiatric hospital and forbidden to ever see Jade again. But he remains obsessed with her.
Zeffirelli is fascinated by the sacrifices individuals will make in the name of true love. Saint Francis in Brother Son, Sister Moon casts aside loyalty to family and friends as he devotes himself to the Lord. David puts aside all other commitments in order to focus his energies on his love for Jade. The boxer in The Champ jeopardizes his very life to demonstrate his love for his son. David, released from the hospital, disobeys his parole restrictions and searches for Jade. Nothing matters to him except being with her.
There is an inspirational power to David's passionate desire for Jade. It affects all who see them together. For his father (Richard Kiley gives an effective performance), the two young people are a reminder of the love he once had and can still find. For Anne (Shirley Knight lights up the screen), David's love is exemplary, an elixir which can transmute her wan life.
Although some viewers may be put off by the extreme melodrama of Endless Love, screenplay writer Judith Rascoe and director Zeffirelli have been true to Scott Spencer's novel. Both the book and the film shed light on the metaphysical qualities of true love.