Oscars Project: Movie #5
From 2003: The Hours
Summary: Three women--Virginia Woolf in 1923, Laura Brown in 1951, and Clarissa Vaughn in 2001, go through what seem like parallel episodes in their lives, all bound by Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway (the tale of a despairing woman trying to host the perfect dinner party). Woolf kills herself in 1941 (at the opening of the movie) but the other two women make different choices and we the audience are witnesses to what are pretty much just as awful results.
This film was based on a 1998 book of the same name by Michael Cunningham (reviewed here, and oddly enough also mentioned here when issued in paperback alongside the book underlying the film we discussed two posts ago). I knew the book existed--as the result of working with the American Lit classes on finding criticism for the novels the students had chosen--it was the selection of one student whom I had helped.
Once I had finished watching the film, I went to the Literary Reference Center database that the student and I had perused, looking for reviews and criticism on the book. Why?
I came away from the movie thinking this couldn't possibly have been how the story (stories) unfolded in the book. The perspectives, the characters.
The book, according to a few reviews I read in LRC (Brooke Allen in New Criterion, Jeff Jensen in Magill Book Reviews), comes off more like an homage to Woolf and a literary meditation on how three seemingly disparate women in different times deal with the disappointment of reality in comparison with their hopes and idealized lives.
By contrast, the movie, to me, felt something like "Depressed Women and the Men That Make Them Resentful." Things I suspect were given more attention in the book were either unable to make the transition to film or reengineered for a different end.
Perhaps one reason the screenplay came out so differently was the effect of 9/11. I know nowadays we have moments where we wonder if we'll be around much longer, but how much more dreadfully, urgently so was that feeling in 2002 when this film was made? Even to the point of "Why bother?"
I had to delay my post about the movie because I kept thinking about it, the same way I did after having seen Vanilla Sky*--for weeks I kept thinking about why that movie was so awful. Why the characters made me feel little sympathy for them. (O.K., and also because my sister made a surprise visit and that always takes priority.)
Seriously, though, there is something wrong with the story and the movie. I have seen Laura Brown, the 1950s housewife, called "Sally" in at least one review of the book and "Julie" in the Cinematherapy discussion of the movie. I don't know if that was carelessness, or because her issues don't seem addressed thoroughly enough--was ambivalence about being pregnant a second time, and possible frustration over same-sex attraction to a friend, justification to abandon her young family (including son Richard who turns out to be Clarissa's dying friend/ex-lover, played by Ed Harris who got a much-deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actor)?--or the eerie, spare portrayal of her story in the film by Julianne Moore, nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
I probably could go on for a while, trying to analyze this multi-Oscar-nominated movie the way I tried with Vanilla Sky. I'm not even sure why Kidman had to wear the fake nose (it made her look cross-eyed, and I didn't get the impression Woolf was), or why Kidman won Best Actress. I can't even figure out where Peske and West found reassurance that "while today may be the first day, or the last day[,] of our lives, so long as we are able to invest in the moment, and even throw a. . . party, we can live and die happy" (p. 34). This movie was reassuring? Where? Who died happy? Woolf, at the bottom of the river? Richard, splattered on the pavement? Clarissa, freed from caring for Richard? Laura Brown, who returns from her new life in Canada to bury her son?
Candidly speaking, I found a lot of my reactions to the movie similar to those in the Bishops' Conference review (in moments of both praise and discomfort). Ultimately, though, I come away with that "Why bother?" feeling.
Did you see The Hours and/or read the book? What did you think?
Up next: Seabiscuit (Note: This will be the last film from this decade. . . get ready for the '90s.)DO RENT/ORDER Bright Star. It was just released on video this past week and was wonderful to watch (despite the somewhat sad ending). It probably was very beautiful on the big screen but had a very limited run in few venues.
*Lousy date, bizarre movie, great soundtrack.