Saturday, June 12, 2010


Hey everyone,

You may have noticed a lack of postings over the past week or so. This is due to a school distraction; I am in my final course to complete my Masters degree. The course is condensed from a full term into 6 weeks, so needless to say my attention is fully sucked in that direction.

Hopefully I will be able to get back at things in a couple weeks, maybe even do a couple posts here and there in the meantime. Know though that I shall return and continue trumpeting all that's fit to read!!!

You're all swell and be in touch soon!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Book Mark: 'A Day In the Life': The Hours on Screen

The Hours: A NovelFor anyone who has read Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours, it would seem to be an unadaptable story for the big screen. It is full of quick breaks and disjointed narratives, not exactly fodder for a major Hollywood motion picture. But screenwriter David Hare had other ideas and set about creating a screenplay that was not only true to the novel but also workable as a visual narrative, something that seems almost unachievable based on the prose alone, at least until you see the final product.

The Hours is a story that combines the tales of three women from different eras during the course of one day. The first tale centers on Virginia Woolf (played by the prosthetically enhanced Nicole Kidman), struggling with her internal conflicts while writing the novel “Mrs. Dalloway”. She is living in the country, removed from her beloved city of London in an attempt to keep her inner demons at bay. Virginia yearns for freedom from the safe yet confining boundaries instituted by her long-suffering husband Leonard (Stephan Devane). However, while these boundaries are indeed restrictive, they ultimately cannot keep Virginia from herself.

The second tale focuses on fifties housewife and mother, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore). Laura is unsuited for and uncomfortable with her surroundings, as portrayed through her pauses, quick glances, forced smiles and fake cheer. She is obsessively trying to read Mrs. Dalloway while tending to her young son (brilliantly played by Jake Rovello) and preparing a birthday cake for her husband (John C. Reilly). Her more-than-neighborly embrace with her friend Kitty (Toni Collette) is the catalyst for driving Laura towards a decision that has tragic and irreversible consequences for her family.

For the final tale, we shift to present-day Greenwich Village resident Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep). Clarissa is busy organizing a reception for her best friend Richard (Ed Harris), a poet ravaged by AIDS who is being honored for his life’s work. Richard refers to Clarissa as Mrs. Dalloway since she shares many of the attributes of Woolf’s eponymous heroine. A brief reunion with an old friend (Jeff Daniels) brings all of Clarissa’s insecurities and emotional troubles regarding Richard bubbling to the surface in an outburst of anguish that can only be fittingly resolved through Richard’s own heartbreaking actions.

Throughout the film, the themes of homosexuality and suicide constantly surround the narrative. Besides Laura’s ‘friendly’ embrace with her neighbor, Woolf’s own well-documented bisexuality is touched upon in the film with a persuasive lip lock between the author and her sister (Miranda Richardson). It is both a revealing and uncomfortable moment as the audience gains more insight into how pained Virginia truly is because of her mental and emotional circumstances.

There is the openly lesbian Clarissa who is in a committed relationship with another woman (Allison Janey), and cares for her gay best friend. The openness of the former relationship is dealt with tastefully and matter-of-factly. In fact, the words ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’ are not even mentioned in the film, a mature and respectful achievement given Hollywood’s excessive need to smack us over the head with stereotypes so that we will ‘get it’.

The theme of suicide runs through the film like a chronometer marking the hours. Laura contemplates it, Clarissa witnesses it and in the opening sequence, Woolf commits it. Each character presented struggles with some measure of depression that manifests itself through their relationships with others. Only in the most extreme situations, like Richard’s, is suicide considered the most freeing solution for unencumbering all those encompassed by the individual’s depression.

Individual stories are intercut more deliberately in the early going of the film, with the shots matching to provide a visual cohesiveness and clarity. As for opening lines, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” is one of the best in English literature. Stephen Daldry, the film’s director, uses this line as the perfect meter for opening the film. We are first shown Virginia writing it, then Laura reading it and finally Clarissa saying it out loud (and then proceeding to do just that). This cohesiveness is replaced later on with depression, despair, and death matching and combining the stories.

Much of the novel’s complexities reside in Cunningham’s revealing of the inner thoughts of all these women. Despite Hare’s wonderful script and Stephan Daldry’s inspired directing, it is impossible to truly convey visually what can only exist on an epistemological level. One knows that something is ‘off’ with Laura but there is no compelling reason presented as to why she is contemplating suicide or why she ultimately chooses not to in favor of a different form of abandonment.

This is the problem with trying to express depression visually; it is a complicated beast that refuses to be fully compartmentalized through words and actions. And without flashbacks or voice-over narration (a bold decision on Daldry’s part), establishing the emotional threads necessary to join a mentally unstable English novelist, a pregnant California housewife and a lesbian book editor in New York relies on assumptions, insinuations and editing precision.

It also, most crucially, must rely on the actors and here in lies the magnificence of The Hours. The film is resplendent with phenomenal performances from all involved, but most especially from the actresses playing the three main characters. Streep once again proves her acting verisimilitude in the role of Clarissa. She chooses to rush Clarissa, to have her in constant motion as her crutch for avoiding rather than confronting the cracks in her well-crafted exterior shell. When Clarissa is forced to stop by the narrative, Streep exhaustively portrays her breakdown in pained gushes as means to visually illustrate Clarissa’s inability to comprehend why she is not at peace with her life.

Kidman won numerous awards for her portrayal of Virginia, and deservedly so. She is able to superbly capture the self-awareness of a woman obsessed with understanding the madness that threatens to overtake her existence.

But most especially compelling is Julianne Moore who is breathtaking as the repressed Laura. She infuses Laura with a silent screaming just behind the sweet smile she poses to deflect invasion into her torturous thoughts and desires. Moore plays Laura’s fear close to the surface, making it seem like her breakdown is imminent at every turn. Her performance is subtle and unintrusive, but the delicate detailing Moore infuses into Laura’s every action is undeniably powerful.

The Hours is a little too dark, too depressing, too complex and perhaps too earnest in trying to accommodate all the actors comprising this film to be embraced by a wide audience. These would be valid complaints, as the story is not one you can easily breeze through without any emotional or psychological engagement with the narrative and characters. It is just not possible. But life is depressing and dark, and women’s lives are complex and rife with complications. This is the reality that the film is trying to express through these three women and their internal plights.

And there is nothing wrong or overdramatic with having a complicated, complex film like The Hours that focuses on women and the very real issues of fear, depression and repression that we endure and resolve everyday. What is wrong is that there are not enough of them to make people believe just how worthy and necessary these films are to the women who make them and to the women who watch them.