Don’t Turn Away From “The Hours”

18 Jun

The Book

In this classic novel, Cunningham presents us with the musings of Virginia Woolf. He also presents another complex character in Clarissa as she nearly frantically prepares for a party. We join the internal mass of thoughts and worries that run through her head. The party is for Clarissa’s ex-husband, Richard. Yet, despite her divorced status, she still strives to please him. She is a conflicted, yet typical woman. There are other storylines of other wives and mothers in this book, but this drama continues to return to this one story.

The Film

This film follows three women as they struggle with societal expectations and depression. The “author” of this tale, Virginia Woolf, is played by Nicole Kidman. The opening and closing scenes depict Woolf committing suicide by drowning. Woolf’s novel centers around Clarissa, played by Meryl Streep. Clarissa is frantically trying to put things in order for the party she is throwing for Richard. During all of this, she learns a lot about herself and those around her. The story is multi-layered. Laura Brown, a depressed suburban housewife, is seen struggling against societal norms and is eventually revealed to be Richard’s mother.

The Adaptation

This was an excellent adaptation due to wonderful characters and equally wonderful actors. Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Woolf in this movie was, no doubt, just what Cunningham would have envisioned; it gives the story credibility and a fresh perspective. Julianne Moore’s portrayal of the runaway mother was very well done. Audiences are able to love her and hate her at the same time. She is undeniably wrong in abandoning her young son and for even considering suicide while pregnant. Yet we are drawn to her sense of hopelessness and lack of connection to her own life. Equally convincing was Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Clarissa. This adaptation was a masterpiece on a multitude of levels.

The Critics

Bradburn argues that this film adaptation would be far better suited to a theatrical presentation.  He posits that recoding “events in small moments” does not a movie make. He argues that the actors in this movie were far too thrust into movie-goers faces, making it all seem as if they were watching stage performances which suspended the reality required in films. Interestingly, there was a large following of reviewers that were concerned about the morality of this movie, including Horvat who argued that the normalization of homosexuality and suicide was “morally abyss”. (Perhaps, she let her personal views cloud his judgment?)  Sadly, horvat missed the underlying message of this movie regarding humanity and the choices every woman must face. Ebert’s review is far less critical. He argues that the three women in the film are linked together with a unique and special treatment and recommends this film to viewers.

The Critical Argument

This movie is not as melodramatic as some might claim; adversely, it represents the deepest, darkest emotions of three women who force the audience to “look” instead of turning away. Holden labeled this film “a sustained meditation on connection, human possibility, the elusive dream of happiness and the sometimes seductive call of death” (Holden, 2006). Perhaps, what audiences find so daunting is that this is “a real departure from most movie-making, which can handle only one universe at a time” (Bradshaw, 2003). Yet, despite this, Wenig calls this movie “fiercely exhilarating and intoxicating” (Wenig, 2003).  Consider the heartbreaking scenes where each woman faces death, either on her own terms or at the hands of another. This is not madness nor is it melodrama; this is life at its most fearful… and fearless.

Works Cited

Blackweider, Rob. “Half and Hour About The Hours.” Interview with Michael Cunningham and David Hare. SPLICEDwire, n.d. Web. 16 June 2015.

Bradburn, John. “The Hours Is Not A Film.” Vertigo Magazine. Vertigo Issue 26, Aug. 2009. Web. 15 May 2015.

Bradshaw, Peter. “Review of the Hours.” Movies. The Guardian, 14 Feb. 2003. Web. 16 June 2015.

Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1998. Kindle Edition.

Daldry, Stephen. “The Hours.” Q and A. IndieLondon, 2003. Web. 16 June 2015.

Ebert, Roger. “The Hours.” Reviews. Roger Ebert, 27 Dec. 2002. Web. 16 June 2015.

Holden, Stephen. “Who’s Afraid Like Virginia Woolf?.” Review of The Hours. New York Times, 27 Dec. 2002. Web. 16 June 2015.

Horvat, Marian. “The Hours: A Moral Abyss .” Movie Reviews. Tradition in Action, 18 Apr. 2003. Web. 16 June 2015.

Rudin, Scott, Robert Fox, David Hare, Stephen Daldry, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels, Stephen Dillane, Allison Janney, John C. Reilly, Miranda Richardson, Seamus McGarvey, Peter Boyle, Philip Glass, Ann Roth, Maria Djurkovic, and Michael Cunningham. The Hours. Hollywood, Calif: Paramount Home Entertainment, 2003.

Wenig, Gabrielle. Watch Me While I Die: Stephen Daldry’s The Hours . Bright Lights Film Journal, 1 Feb. 2003. Web. 15 May 2015.


One Response to “Don’t Turn Away From “The Hours””

  1. scinemas June 23, 2015 at 11:00 pm #

    I think it’s interesting that you pointed out that The Hours isn’t a melodrama, but rather a way of forcing audiences to see the darker side of humanity and mental disorder. Depression is not an easy subject to talk about or tackle, and the film does read as rather morose overall, but it does so in a way that allows audiences to truly see what the illness is like. It’s impossible to describe depression without sadness and that distinctive numb sensation that comes with it, so perhaps melodrama is unavoidable in regard to playing it on film.

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