In James Gray's Two Lovers, Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) is torn between two women, each of whom is right for him, and wrong for him, in different ways. When we meet Leonard, he's jumping into the river in a suicide attempt; he changes his mind at the last minute, struggling to the surface and gasping for air.
It's a scene that tells us much of what we need to know about Leonard: This is a man torn between the desire to end the pain in his life, and the equally strong desire to fight against it. Leonard, we come to learn, was engaged to be married, but when he and his fiancee both tested positive for the gene that carries Tay-Sachs syndrome, her family called off the engagement and she disappeared. Leonard's mother, Ruth (Isabella Rossellini), hovers protectively over her only child, trying to help him move on, while at the same time clinging to him with a fierceness that may not be in his best interest.