Monday, August 3, 2009
As a big fan of Virginia Woolf, I’m a little chagrined that it took me so long to see ‘The Hours.’ The film weaves together the lives of three women living in three eras; the famous writer Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) battling depression; Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), a wife and mother in 1950’s suburbia, suffering with her inability to embrace her traditional life; and Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep), a New York editor coming to terms with the inevitable death of an ex-lover and dear friend from AIDS. The thread that connects these three women is Woolf’s book ‘Mrs. Dalloway,’ a story about a London society woman who throws parties to avoid thinking deeply about her inner life and choices she has made. You will find that the story’s plot is subtly woven into the plot of ‘The Hours.’
If you put aside the gender and sexuality politics, the film becomes about defining what constitutes happiness, and how it can be so different from one person to another. Woolf is suffocating in their Richmond, Surrey cottage (though I could certainly find happiness there!) and yearns to get back to their London life. Laura’s husband defines their married life in the suburbs as paradise even as his wife suffers in silence. Even Clarissa, who has thrown off the apparent confines of sexuality of the two previous women, battles anxieties about leading a “trivial” life. As her daughter comments, “it only matters if you think it’s true.”
What saves the film from becoming sentimental is its ability to look at life straight in the eye, unflinchingly.