Just as sometime actor Sam Shepard has not yet successfully followed up his memorable screen performance as Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff ten years ago, neither has writer/director Volker Schlondorff come within miles of his 1979 Oscar winner, The Tin Drum. Voyager, based on the Max Frisch bestselling love story homo Faber, appears to be an earnest attempt for both of these gifted men to recover their misplaced magic; unfortunately, it would be an insult to both of them to say they had succeeded this time round.
Shepard's character, Walter Faber, is a middle aged, passionless, and dull if handsome engineer, who in 1957 is at the height of a rewarding career, building hydroelectric dams around the world. Women love him, but, a textbook stoic, he can't be bothered to get excited over romance and all that until, of course, his religious belief in pure technology and probability begins to fail him. When he survives an airline crash and then meets with the most unexplainably coincidental events, our hero begins to emerge from his highly improbable shell to reveal... a sensitive guy. Sensitivity is, of course, conveyed through a love interest, in this case a virtually teenage nubile who catches Faber's fancy when the two men meet on a cruise ship. She, as expected, relies far more on instinct, impulse and randiness than probability and maths; he soon learns to follow her example.
What comes next is a completely predictable, overly serious story of forbidden passion, joyful discovery, photogenic European backdrops, and a lesson about loss thrown in for good measure. But while the script explains that Faber is transformed, Shepard is having none of it. Never does he lighten up, tell a good joke, or even giggle with the much discussed glee of newfound love. So bereft of passion is his performance that Shepard leaves the film with nothing but nice scenery, the trite script, and a glaring absence of vision.