Friday, October 21, 2011

The Hours

By s. Friday, October 21, 2011 , , , , ,
(114 min, 2002)
Director: Stephen Daldry
Writers: Michael Cunningham (novel), David Hare (screenplay)
Stars: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore

Hours, days, years, moments, lives.

(spoilers ahead)
“The Hours” is one of the most powerful movies I've seen. But before I get to describe the actual story I want to go through the structure of the film. There are many common motives in the movie – suicide (Laura's attempt, Richard's death, Virginia's final escape), eggs, flowers, books, service people who don't understand their customers (Flower lady who didn't get Richard's book, Virginia's cook who is mean to her, Laura's babysitter friend), kids we can rely on, that somehow make us confess more than we wanted to, devoted partners, on whom we can count on, even if we don't deserve it, moments of total desolation, the release of real feelings when important visitor comes around, the kiss – whether it is long overdue (Clarissa), the dream come true (Laura) or quick impulse and the sign of affection (Virginia).

Three women, each living in different time, different city. But they all have all those things in common. They actually have something in common with all of us – the feeling of despair, of being lost, alone. Solitude. Although they are surrounded by people.

The bravest one of all three is Clarissa. She lives with her partner Sally, she is a publisher, she has a daughter. She also takes care of her friend Richard, who is dying of AIDS. Every single day she is busy, she is in constant motion, running errands, doing housework, working, buying flowers she adores. "Always giving parties to cover the silence". It's her way of coping with the fact her life is running away from her, before her own eyes. And her dream ran away long time ago. She loves Richard and she only had one magical summer with him. After that he left her for Louis. When Louis visits Clarissa, on the occasion of big party she is throwing for Richard few hours later, she breaks down. He was the one, her one and only, and he spent his life with someone else and now she is taking care of him, long after his best years, watching him slip out of consciousness, sanity and life, being reminded every single day that her dream will never come true.
Virginia Woolf is kept in the countryside, for her own good, by her husband. She had deep depression, she tried to commit suicide. She can't find joy in this quiet place and hopes desperately to get back to frenzy and life beaming London. Virginia is working on the book, „Mrs Dolloway” which will make the most literal connection in the plot between three women. Virginia is a rebel, she doesn't except any rules or conventions Her servants mock her and she is scared of them. Being left alone in a peaceful place like that only makes her feel worse – after all, all she has is the time and peace for her thoughts and ideas. Sometimes too much thinking, especially abut dark matters, especially by someone with vivid imagination and great brilliance is the worst possible thing. Her husband who deeply believes he is saving her, by keeping her away from havoc, finally comes to understanding that she will never be happy in the place like that. Her selfishness and his love is perfectibility portrayed in the scene on train station, where Virginia finally understands exactly how much her husband loves her. So much he condemns himself of being alive when she'll be dead, so much he will willingly go through her illness worsening and her condition deteriorating.

The only coward in the story, and I will always view her as coward is Julianne Moore's character – Laura. Trapped housewive, living in a marriage with a husband she presumably doesn't love, with a son she doesn't have much of a connection. Pregnant, alone, strange. How many wives like that were portrayed in movies? It seems to me fifties were some terrible time for relationships,.like literally the worst time to get married. But with Laura I just cannot understand – she has nice son, she has a new baby inside her, let's not forget – the greatest gift. And she knows it is a greatest gift – her neighbor, who Laura likes, maybe even loves visits her and says that she maybe not able to have children. She says that she envies Laura being a mother. She doesn't understand that. I don't think she has any maternal instinct, at all. Later on Laura will attempt to commit suicide in hotel room, dropping off her child to the neighbor, after reading „Mrs Dolloway”. She won't be able to do it. I think she didn't do it out of fear – fear of death itself, fear of guilt, if she had killed her own child. But as we find out later – she did leave her family shortly after giving birth to a daughter. Her son will later on grow up to be Richard. Filled with issues, unhappy, crying whilst seeing his mother wedding picture. Laura will visit Clarissa many years later, after her son kills himself. Clarissa's daughter will hug her. I think in this moment of being hugged, by somebody's daughter Laura realized exactly what kind of monster she was. I don't think she could have found happiness – the woman who abandoned two of her kids, will never have that. The very guilt she was fearing in that hotel room must have haunt her through her entire life.

The great deal of the film is devoted to the subject of escaping. But escape is never an answer. Laura didn't find happiness and she condemned three people in her life, and then people in their life to sadness. Maybe if she didn't leave, Richard would never jumped out of the window before Clarissa's eyes? She is responsible for so much misery and pain, because of her selfish actions. As is Virginia who killed herself and left her devoted husband in mourning. But at least she gave warnings, something Laura never did. Her husband seemed like a good man and she never opened up to him. I cannot believe there are people out there calling her actions „courageous”.

Let's talk about symbolism in the movie – egg, which is being used in the kitchen Virginia is when she is arguing with her cook – the camera deliberately shows the shell being broken – a sign of tension rising. Same thing happens in Clarissa's story when Louis visits. Life is escaping, going farther and farther away with each second. Laura uses eggs to make a cake for her husband. The cake is ruined, she has to do another one. But not before she breaks down. She knows the cake wasn't perfect because her intention and feelings are filled with lies. The other symbol is flowers – given to somebody who is either dead – the bird – or who will die literally – Richard – or metaphorically – Laura. They also the symbol for woman, on whom the story is focusing.
The most important line in the movie is being said by Leonard Woolf “Why does someone has to die?”. He asks Virginia, who is working on her novel and who insists on killing off one of the characters. She responds that this is necessary so that other people would appreciate life more. And sadly it is true. We all appreciate life only when someone close to us is gone or when we are about to lose it ourselves. But not only then – we just need to realize how mortal and fragile we are and that's it. Clarissa gets to see the love of her life's death and that makes her appreciate that above all she has people who love her and after all, despite the void - she is alive. She is actually free to do whatever she wants. After talking to Laura, after seeing that choosing, allegedly, easier way is not an answer, Clarrisa kisses her partner and finally finds relief. Because all her work didn't go to waste. She has good life and another human being's death let's her appreciate that. With Virginia it is the dead bird she finds in the garden. “Females are larger and more colorful” - that line is not a coincidence. Virginia sees how peaceful the bird is and she envies that feeling. Years later she will find her own peace. Perhaps had Laura encountered death she would appreciate her situation more. Her neighbor Kitty is worried about her health, perhaps the fear it induces on Laura went the wrong way – instead of realizing how fortunate she is, Laura focuses on what may happen if her neighbor will disappear. And she runs, hides and condemns herself on everyone's damnation.

The movie has three powerful performances – Nicole Kidman in very unusual role won Academy Award for her portrayal of Virginia. That is great performance, but not nearly as great as Moore's and Streep's. Julianne Moore created her best performance here – her character is not likeable, I doubt if there are many who would understand her – maybe her situation, but definitely not her choices. However this is an outstanding work, built with very subtle details. Certainly, she created very memorable performance. But the best one is Meryl Streep, who can be extremely convincing in any role. Her Clarrissa has both strength, admirable strength and vulnerability. The moment when she breaks down in the kitchen is one of the best acting moments I've seen. The rest of the cast is so acclaimed it is rare to see such ensemble – terrific Ed Harris as Louis, John C. Reilly as Laura's husband, fantastic Stephan Dillane as loving Leonard Woolf. It also features Claire Danes, Toni Collette, who can be so incredible even if she only appears in one scene, Jeff Daniels and Miranda Richardson.

The movie has beautiful cinematography, fantastic editing which shows poignantly the connections between all three stories and wonderful, haunting soundtrack by Philip Glass, which is one of my favorite music scores of all time. This film asks difficult questions and leaves answering them to the audience. By the end of the film, much like Clarissa it makes us appreciate what we got, even if we seemingly have so little. It is very heavy, thought-provoking and difficult. But it's certainly one of the best films I've seen.

"To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard, always the years between us, always the years. Always the love. Always the hours." 

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