Thursday, February 06, 2003

I've been waiting to post about the great movie "The Hours" until I re-read the book by Michael Cunningham as well as Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Cunningham draws on Woolf's concept of portraying one day in the life of a woman and that woman's life in one day, with a novel that moves among three women in three different times, but upon second reading I'm afraid that he misrepresents Mrs. Dalloway. In Woolf's novel, Clarissa Dalloway is a woman perhaps too concerned with trivial matters, but nevertheless she is respected and loved. She also possesses the strength to live despite knowing what others think of her and seeing herself as they do. While Cunningham imbues his Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa Vaughan, with these same qualities, it bothers me that he sneers slightly at Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and her quiet conservativism. Clarissa Vaughan struggles with the same troubles as Clarissa Dalloway, but Cunningham gives her a "modern" flair as a lesbian editor whose family (a lover and a sperm-donor daughter) seems to be a flaunting gesture to the more traditional roles of Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown, and Mrs. Dalloway. But maybe that's just me.

That said, I must confess that I'm having trouble deciding if I like the movie or the book better. When I went to see the movie, two friends who were unfamiliar with the story accompanied me, and I was a little worried that the movie would consequently be less accessible to them. After watching it, however, I was not surprised to hear that they too loved it. It is inarguably intense--not a simply entertaining film--with each woman's struggles with identity, suicide, and societal roles; yet, in the end, they all deal with their hours, their moments, their lives, in the best way they can. I was particularly struck by the question raised: Who is stronger, the woman who hides her emotions under a smile, or the woman who admits defeat and lets her insanity be known? Though Cunningham may disagree with me (and while I do greatly admire Virginia Woolf), I lean more towards sympathizing with the former. We all struggle with life, burying our doubts in trivial matters like seating arrangements at a party, and it is not denying the truth to accept this and move on. It seems to me that Cunningham tries to glorify the physical suicides of Woolf and Richard the poet, and the emotional suicide of Laura Brown, but to the reader (and the viewer) there is still the tang of giving up.

Nevertheless, both books are highly recommended, and the movie is just beautiful--sumptuously filmed, with fabulous acting and houses into which I would move in a second.

"...What she loved was this, here, now, in front of her; the fat lady in the cab. Did it matter then, she asked herself, walking towards Bond Street, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely? but that somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived, Peter survived, lived in each other, she being part, she was positive, of the trees at home; of the house there, ugly, rambling all to bits and pieces as it was; part of people she had never met; being laid out like a mist between the people she knew best, who lifted her on their branches as she had seen the trees lift the mist, but it spread ever so far, her life, herself." --Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Endnote: I'm linking to the above review of "The Hours" partly because I think it's a decent description, but also because I want to argue a little with the critic's comments. I agree with her complaint that Hollywood is a little too excited about portraying lesbian relationships, but I must say that in this case it is an accurate representation of the book. In other words, it's not just Hollywood. As to her question about Clarissa Vaughan's 'true' lesbianism, she does say in the movie that she never met her daughter's father, which suggests sperm donor to me (leaving aside all inconsistencies between homosexuality's lack of procreation and homosexuals' desire for offspring). Also, Laura Brown did not leave her family because she kissed a woman--though this may or may not be a more legitimate reason, she felt trapped in her role as a wife and mother, and incapable of performing as she was expected to.

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