Anna Fioravanti isn’t sure that ‘The Hours’ deserves to be considered one of the best films of the year.
“The Hours” is based on a book written by Michael Cunningham, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1998. The movie (and book) is about one day in the lives of 3 women belonging to different places and times, struggling to find happiness: Virginia, Laura, and Clarissa.
Apparently, their lives are totally different. Virginia (Woolf) is a writer who lives in England in 1920. Laura (Brown) is an housewife who lives in Los Angeles in 1951. Clarissa (Vaughan-Dalloway) is a literary editor who lives in Greenwich Village, NY, in 1990. Still, the three of them are connected one to the other for several reasons; I would say, five major themes.
The first and more evident of these issues is the fact that they are women. This condition, most of all for the first two, makes them “outsiders” because they have no freedom regarding what they want to be or do with themselves. For example, as Virginia is considered not completely able to use her head -she attempted suicide-, she is forced by doctors and, consequently, by her husband and family to live in a place where she doesn’t want to stay.
Secondly, they are all depressed. Virginia doesn’t care for anything; still, she finds peace in writing. Writing is, to her, an “absolute” moment: no one can disturb her in the meanwhile because she feels no other necessity than to go on. For example, when a servant comes in her room to ask her what she wants to eat, Virginia’s reaction is of somebody who doesn’t bother at all – food is unimportant to her. Laura is depressed as well. She is not a writer and it seems there is nothing, not even her children, to make her feel better. Nothing matters to her, and she seems not to understand why she feels this way. She is incapable of understanding how to get over it. She just suffers, but doesn’t really try to react. The only solution she seems to find for making her sufferance end is death, even though she is pregnant and has a child who simply adores her. Clarissa is also depressed, but she tries to show a stronger image of herself. Furthermore, I would add that she has a real reason because her feelings are linked to the fact that her ex-never forgotten lover, Richard, is about to die of AIDS.
The third element that connects the three of them is homosexuality/lesbianism. Even though officially only Clarissa is lesbian, Virginia and Laura show attraction for women. Clarissa lives with her girlfriend Sally, but interestingly, she takes care of her never-forgotten lover Richard as if they were still together. Virginia is married to Leonard. He loves her deeply and tenderly. She loves him. But, when Virginia is about to greet her sister, she does it with a kiss on her lips done as both, a provocation and an action that she had longed to do. Those who have read about Virginia Woolf’s real life, know that she had a long lasting relationship with Vita Sackville-West to whom she dedicated (and got inspiration from) “Orlando”. Laura is married. Again, her husband, like Leonard regarding Virginia, loves her very much. Still, she is sexually confused, so much that she kisses a woman, a friend who comes to visit her. To her, this represents a sort of climax. Just after that, she takes her car and drive without exact destination, just feeling she wants and has to die.
Another element that connects Virginia, Laura and Clarissa is the book, “Mrs Dalloway“. Virginia is about to write it (she starts), Laura is represented while reading it and Clarissa is a sort of personification of the protagonist.
The last major theme is the time the film spends with each character. We are shown is just one day, in June, in the life of Virginia, Laura and Clarissa. This element is one of those which connects not only the three characters with one another but also them and the character of Clarissa Dalloway in Woolf’s book.
To tell the truth, this is one of the elements that particularly caught my imagination. One day in the life of one person. One day in the “social” life of one person (the three of them are organising a sort of party). Virginia is waiting for her sister and nephews to come over, Laura is celebrating (should, at least!) her husband’s birthday and Clarissa is organizing a party to celebrate Richard’s new book and winning of an award. Actually, one of the main elements in the book written by Virginia Woolf is connected to the fact that the story says “nothing”. Nothing happens and nothing has to happen. Still, we are told a lot about the characters and their relationships. On the contrary, in the movie everything happens in one day and even Virginia (Kidman) expresses this as a sort of necessity, such a strong necessity that “somebody has to die”. Two characters do: Virginia and Richard. They both decide to do so but, in Richard’s case, it seems a sort of revenge he takes against life because he knows he is sick so he HAS to die.
The movie is about taking and losing chances. Laura instinctively decides she wants to die but then, she changes her mind. Virginia thinks about suicide as well. But, in her own case, it sounds like a necessity by a tormented artist. At the end, she puts herself in the river. Clarissa is different. She is depressed as much as the other two, or probably more, but she has always put others before herself – so even if she would like to give everything up, still, she chooses life. She does it when she thinks about the past and regrets it. She does it when she is with Richard. Those are the most touching moments; she exactly knows what’s going on. Still, she tries to make him be positive about life and future by trying to force him to choose life by participating in the party, for example.
Also, I was quite impressed -and probably disappointed- by the use of names and by some changes related to them. In Mrs Dalloway Richard is the protagonist’s husband and the love of her life (the male one, I should add), is Peter. Sally used to be her best friend (and “second”, not confessed, love of her life). On the contrary, in the movie while the relationship between Clarissa and Sally is made explicit, the one she had with Peter has been replaced by the one with her husband. Actually, at different times, I felt a sort of bad judgement expressed in the movie regarding homosexuality if one thinks about what real life was like. For example, Leonard is described to be the most loving and caring of husbands and Virginia, even if she doesn’t show it that much, seems to feel the same way (e.g. in the letter she writes). But as I already mentioned, in reality she loved somebody else, a woman, Vita.
The movie may be easily described as a “female universe” but Richard is a very important secondary character. He is homosexual. Even though his character is quite realistic and well done, still at times I had the feeling they made him die as if death was a punishment he was receiving for being “different”. Actually, I was quite impressed when, while Virginia is writing Mrs Dalloway, she repeatedly says “Somebody has to die”. This was offered to be a fundamental element for a successful book/story. Still, my mind was bringing me to what I’ve read about the real Virginia and Mrs Dalloway which is the story of a day in the life of an Englishwoman who is about to have a party for her husband. Nothing else can be said about the book because everything we get to know is accessory. In other words, the plot is almost non-existent. Nothing happens. Everything has ALREADY been done. On the contrary, in the remake done in the movie, everything happens in just one day. Richard dies. Clarissa breaks up and finally cries her feelings out. Virginia starts writing a book. Later on, she will kill herself. Laura chooses life and decides to abandon her family.
The last element I would mention that interested me was the relationship between mothers and children. Virginia has no children but gets along very well with her niece. Clarissa and Laura have. Clarissa has an adolescent daughter who lives with her and who seems to have accepted her homosexuality completely. In other words, the relationship between the two seems good and positive. Again, I couldn’t forget the fact that, on the contrary, the one between Virginia’s character and her daughter Elisabeth is quite difficult most of all because Mrs Dalloway is jealous of the deal between the latter and Miss Killman. Peter, at one point in time, also wonders if Clarissa ever wanted to have a child and really had loved her. Laura has a child, Richard, and is pregnant with another. When she decides to kill herself, it seems she doesn’t bother at all about the child she’s expecting (dying herself means making him die as well). When she decides to abandon the family, she doesn’t worry about the two of them. Still, while talking with Clarissa, after Richard’s death, she seems to be sorry for all the sufferance she caused to them and expresses the fact that no matter what, she loved them. Interestingly, Richard as a child and Virginia’s niece are a link between these two stories. In both cases, the children saw their mothers kissing another woman.
Connections. After all, we could say that the stories are a sort of snake that bites its back: Virginia->Clarissa->Laura->Virginia and so on.
Did I like the movie, then? Not as much as I thought I would have. Actually, to me there is a sort of non acceptance for homosexuality which lies underneath. Clarissa is not happy to live with Sally, a woman, because she understands that the love of her life is Richard, a man. The same can be said regarding Laura. The same can be said about Virginia even though, in her own case, the movie doesn’t focus much on this aspect of her life (it does about the depression she cannot properly fight against). Two homosexuals die, the third one escapes.
Probably my expectations were too high because Virginia Woolf is one of my favourite writers and I simply adored Mrs Dalloway. Still, I don’t think a movie like this one could be mentioned in the “best of the year” list, not even for the acting (Nicole Kidman received an Oscar!).