The Hours: Review

The Hours attempts to connect the stories of three women that are all connected by Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway. The movie is interesting in that it is very Woolf-ian and connects all three of the characters that are disconnected by time, much like Woolf connects the characters within Mrs. Dalloway without ever having them meet. Likewise, it also spans only one day in each of the characters’ lives (the exception being that Woolf is shown at the end of her life as well) with each having some sort of party event looming on the horizon.

All three actresses play the parts very well, though I’m surprised Nicole Kidman got an Academy Award for her performance. Although good, it was not anything amazing. More so, Julianne Moore is perhaps the most dynamic of the three, playing Laura Brown who probably is the most delineated from the plot of Mrs. Dalloway. Rather, she is seen reading the book throughout and how it inspires her. Although not directly from Mrs. Dalloway, the character seems to have elements from other Woolf novels: the relationship between her and her son seems to have a touch of Mrs. Ramsay from To the Lighthouse and her inability to make a cake mirrors Rhoda’s trouble in The Waves to comprehend numbers.

Were it not for the middle story, the third story would have hardly any meaning. All the events eerily parallel Mrs. Dalloway and even most of the characters retain the names from the novel. Clarissa is trying to throw a party. Richard and Sally are switched as Sally is now in the long-term relationship with Clarissa, but there are obvious clues that Richard and Clarissa had a history. There is a daughter who comes home and a Peter character. What makes the novel so great is the relationship of these stories to the Septimus storyline. Instead, it is Richard who falls out the window (could see that one coming from a mile away) and AIDS is the substitute for shell shock.

It’s sort of comic that the characters know of Woolf’s novel, as it is even mentioned throughout, but do not realize they are carrying out situations and fates that are within the novel. The movie, however, looks great and the cinematography is very much inspired by Woolf, as it pays attention to details within the days of the characters, much as Woolf’s novel does. Phillip Glass’s wonderful music is probably what keeps the stories together. If you have never read Woolf’s novel, the story will probably be much more fascinating, but having read them and knowing how much deeper Mrs. Dalloway is, the movie does not reach to the same level as the novel.

The Hours; A Review

The drama of The Hours is thus: Woolf is writing Mrs. Dalloway, Sarah Brown--preggers--is reading Mrs. D in 1950's U.S. suburbia, and Clarissa Vaughn is unknowingly living Mrs. D in 2001 New York. The film begins with Woolf standing in a river and ends with her drowning herself in a river. Each plot is a day in the life of a woman. Sarah Brown bakes a birthday cake for her husband and questions her life. Clarissa prepares for a party and painfully reminisces with old friends. Woolf has a visit with her sister and tries to escape her small town life. There are surprises and twists. And of course, 3 lesbian kisses, evenly distributed.

This is the umpteenth time I've seen The Hours. I honestly thought the first time I saw it would be the last. It seemed like Michael Cunningham, author of the novel The Hours, was just working out his mommy issues and his obsession with Mrs. D. But then I thought, "There is totally something up with Richard's robe." I watched it again. "OMG his robe matches"--SPOILER ALERT--"his childhood bed sheets!" The second time I watched it, I became obsessed. I noticed the blue and yellow color scheme, how Clarissa and Richard's dad point at Richard in just the same way, and how familiar that woman in the flower shop looked (Eileen Atkins who played Virginia Woolf in "A Room of One's Own" and wrote the screen play for "Mrs. Dalloway"). I love connections and The Hours is full of them. I also love Philip Glass, the composer for the film.

Reading Mrs. D only fed the obsession. I looked for connections with the book. Obviously, there were many. Furthermore, I felt that the pacing of the film and the weaving together the present with the past were wonderfully Woolfian. But what, then, does the film have to offer? It celebrates life. So does Mrs. D. It explores the ambiguity of sexuality. So does Mrs. D. It plays out the legacy of a masterpiece. So does--just read Mrs. D. The Hours, being based on a novel that was inspired by a novel, has a manifold challenge: it must contribut something that its predecessors do not. Perhaps, in that sense, the film fails.

The Hours has this going for it; it's a movie and a beautiful one. Mrs. D is not accessible to all people and The Hours provides a lovely treatment of the themes explored by Woolf. So if you can't read Mrs. D, watch The Hours. Woolf's characters are so elaborate and real that any reinterpretation of them will be interesting. Cunningham has a wonderful imagination and Stephen Daldry, director, knows how to make a film. My reaction comes from someone who's studied the film and Mrs. D many times. If you asked me years ago, in my youth, I'd say that the film was quite moving.

Ahead of Her Hour

Virginia Woolf recognized the importance of having a voice in one's own development, even if others challenge, disrespect or disagree with that voice, and apparently, whether or not that voice was at its most sane. "The Hours" is an applaudable performance, in that it successfully magnified that key interest of Virginia's. I take a departure from my peers' reviews when I say, that I feel the character of Laura Brown is a very true representation of a Woolfian character, and she really possesses a shared quality so often displayed in many of Woolf's novel characters: the need to self-assert because we can and therefore, we should.  

What means a good film doesn't mean having virtuous characters. Nicole Kidman's Woolf mirrored the real Virginia Woolf in that she speaks to a greater cause, human dignity. You need to assert yourself against those who try to stifle or belittle the value you see in the choices you wish to make for yourself. When Leonard first confronts Kidman's Woolf and dismisses her plea to return to London, she says, "They [the doctors] don't speak for my interests [...] this is my right, the right of every human being."  Leonard moved the press outside of London for the sake of Virginia's health, and now she wishes to relocate despite that gesture. This scene is the vindication of  "I will get the flowers myself" or "I will bake a cake," because here we finally have a purely verbal form of self-assertion. Perhaps the most controversial and paradoxical representation of self-assertion in the film is suicide: the ultimate consequence of living the life you wish for yourself, may mean for you, the ending of that life. 

Laura Brown continues this circular thought when she ponders, "What does it mean to regret when you have no choice?" At the end of the film, Brown brings us to the root of self-interest by examining it, proving that self-assertion often serves under the guise of selfishness, and that may be ugly and you may not like it, but it must be accepted for what it is because it is human. In essence, you may not have been able to live with the kind of choices I've made, but it is because of those choices I have been able to live with myself. Laura Brown choose not to live with false comforts, as Clarissa Vaughn has been doing. 

In response to the melodrama that Brown brings to the film. I think filming Laura Brown as melodramatic is very true to Woolf's own approach to her characters: the internal drama that exists in all of us and that she wrote so uncannily. Very often, Woolf will have her characters leave us off with those one-liners, only to return to that character and never address that suspenseful thought again. 

*While I was watching Kidman pace in the train station scene, there was something very familiar about her wardrobe, and I realized Burberry's SP09 line suggested some of that depression chic.

“The Hours”

“The Hours” focuses on three women who are secretly unhappy in their lives: Virginia Woolf the author, Clarissa a lesbian throwing a party for an ex-lover with AID’s , and Laura, a lonely housewife. All of these roles are played by great actresses including Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep. One of the underlying focuses of “The Hours” is suicide. We all know that Woolf committed suicide and that is depicted in the film. But all of the women experience or encounter suicide in some way throughout the film. The characters are also related to Woolf by the novel Mrs.Dalloway:
1923 was the year that Woolf wrote the book, Laura reads it so she won’t succumb to boredom and Richard (Clarissa’s ex-lover) jokingly calls her Mrs. Dalloway which is also ironic because Clarissa was Mrs. Dalloway’s first name. “The Hours” is a great movie that shows how important it is to be true to ourselves, that mental illness can be passed down and that love is blind.

  Nicole Kidman is made to look like Woolf with a prosthetic nose, mousy-brown hair and plain clothes. Kidman’s version of Woolf is a great and albeit true one. Woolf is intelligent yet somewhat cold and snobbish. Woolf seems to want to be left alone but when she her sister and her sister’s children come to visit she seems to enjoy the company. But it does get a little weird when Woolf kisses her sister. Woolf was a lesbian but maybe she was just trying to seek comfort and solace with someone. It was clear she wasn’t happy: she repeatedly told Richard she hated Richmond and was lonely. When Woolf commits suicide by filling her pockets with rocks and drowning herself it is a sad and short scene.
Laura, played by Julianne Moore is a secretly sad and lonely housewife who reads “Mrs. Dalloway” so she wont succumb to boredom. Laura looks like any other housewife but she doesn’t feel like one. She’s pregnant with her second child and is always with her clingy son Richie. When her friend Kitty comes over to tell her that she is sick Laura kisses her. Here we see one of the reasons why Laura is unhappy. She is secretly gay and has to hide her feelings. Coming-out in the 1950’s was simply unexceptable back then. The ideal woman was supposed to stay home, cook and clean for her husband and raise her children. Richie also seems to view everything about his mother, so it seems to effect him. After the kiss Laura goes to a hotel to commit suicide by taking pills. But she later returns home and throws the birthday party for her son. It’s a good thing that she didn’t commit suicide but it’s sad that she has to go on living a lie. This is similar to what Woolf says in the film: “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”
 Clarissa is a lesbian living in the modern day. She has a daughter that is of college-age played by Claire Danes who joins her when she is preparing Richard’s party.  Richard appears ravaged by AID’s: he is shockingly thin and depressed. Although both are gay, both Richard and Clarissa dated in college. Clarissa seems to still love Richard, and it is evident by her affection and kindness toward him. Also when Clarissa says, “That is what we do. That is what people do. They stay alive for each other,” we can see that she is thinking of what life would be like without Richard. But Richard later succumbs to his depression and kills himself. We later find out that he is Laura’s son. He believes that his illness was passed on to him. But what illness he is talking about? It could be that he thinks that he inherited being gay from his mother. Or his mental illness, as he is suicidal and his mother was too. Although she came back from the hotel Laura later left her family after giving birth to her second child. When she hears of her son’s death she thinks that maybe that was a horrible mistake.
I think that if she had seen it Woolf would’ve been proud of “The Hours”. It did not paint a false version of her and it discusses the message she wanted to live her life by. Which is being true to oneself. -- Baha Awadallah

The Inheritance of Woolf (Good and Bad) in The Hours.

When I finished watching Stephen Daldry’s The Hours, I was plagued by a feeling of ambivalence. Bookended by the image of Virginia Woolf’s slow and resolute tread into the River Ouse, the plot weaves in-and-out of the lives of three women: Woolf (Nicole Kidman) in 1923, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) in 1951 and Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) in 2001. Switching off the television after the final scene and staring at the dark screen, I sat on the couch quietly deciding how I felt about the film. This was two weeks ago. I’m still trying to make that decision.

In the tradition of Mrs. Dalloway, the plot traces one day in the lives of Virginia (writing her masterpiece), Laura (reading Woolf’s masterpiece), and Clarissa (living Woolf’s masterpiece). Although the women live in different places and times, they struggle with similar issues and choices: art or obscurity, happiness or dissatisfaction, life or death. While I felt like I understood the creative quandaries of Virginia and Clarissa, perhaps because of my enrollment in the class and having read Mrs. Dalloway, I (like Pat) was frustrated with Laura Brown. Sure, she was unhappy. Sure, she felt trapped. Haven’t we all experienced the panicked pangs of displeasure? Do we all give up? No. Are we supposed to, according to Laura? While I do not agree with her decision and her later pseudo-redemption with her "I chose life" speech, I do understand her vital role in the plot. At least, for my own purposes. She is the example of the choice to live selfishly. While she chooses to live, she ruins those closest to her. I suppose the unanswered questions and the ambiguous functions which attach themselves to these characters is the very essence of the film.

Despite my frustration with Laura Brown, I was deeply interested in the broken relationship she had with her son, Richard, especially in light of current events. When I read that Nicholas Hughes, the son of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, had committed suicide last week, I instantly had an image of Richard Brown letting himself fall from his apartment window. The ensuing media-based scientific debates about a hereditary inclination to suicide made me think about the legacy that parents left their children: Laura’s to Richard and Leslie Stephen’s to his daughter Virginia. Laura’s abandonment, her figurative suicide, not only influences Richard’s life, but also his writing. He writes about her as if she killed herself – to him, she is dead. However, he does write about her, just as Woolf wrote about her father in To the Lighthouse. While we are never told whether or not Richard’s writing helped him come to terms with his mother’s desertion, his act of writing about his mother in an attempt to better understand her strikes a chord of resonance with Woolf’s writing that is both subtle and sincere.

Finally, I had huge issues with Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Woolf. According to The Academy, as Pat already mentioned, she must have done something right. However, I am discontented by her performance. While Kidman plays a manic writer very well, I can’t help but wonder if her depiction of Woolf is fair. Is that Virginia Woolf’s entire legacy? Having studied Woolf’s writing this past semester, I have come to know an immensely talented writer, who is as witty as she is staid. Kidman’s Woolf is a curmudgeon who saunters about the house seemingly thinking only of Mrs. Dalloway and her next opportunity to end it all. I was sorely disappointed. Where was the Woolf who wrote Freshwater? Where was the Woolf who dressed as an Abyssinian diplomat during the Dreadnought Hoax? The prosthetic nose and the highborn scowl donned by Kidman illustrate the common perception of the iconic Woolf – the feminist Brit writer who drowned herself. Kidman’s performance, while it shows glimmers of brilliance, such as in the scene with Leonard at the train station, is eclipsed by its homogeny of depression.

The Hours: Deal With It

When I finally got around to watching Frost/Nixon a few weeks ago, I thought it was a well-paced, suspenseful film with solid performances by Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, and (even) Kevin Bacon.  I was, however, constantly distracted by Frank Langella's Nixon impersonation; I didn't see much of a resemblance, and his voice was overdone, with each word spoken from the jowls.  It bothered me the entire movie.  

Last night, I watched Stephen Daldry's film The Hours, and a similar problem arose for me.  Every time Nicole Kidman was on screen as Woolf, I couldn't help but wonder who was in charge of that prosthetic strapped to her nose.  Nearly all the dramatic wind was sucked out of Woolf's sails by that silly makeup job; I couldn't take anything she was saying completely seriously, and it didn't even make her look more like the writer.  That's just one man's opinion though.  She did manage to take home the Oscar for best actress.

The other technical issue I had with the film was the music, particularly during the Laura Brown story line.  I would find myself in a seemingly innocuous moment of a scene, when suddenly my heart would start to race, and I would have no idea why:
Laura: I'm going to make a cake.  That's what I'm going to do.  I'm going to make a cake for daddy's birthday. [music: a swelling, swirling crescendo of strings and piano].  

I was on edge the entire time she was on screen.  Now, I know what you're thinking: wellduh. that's the point; it's part of the suspense.  I maintain, however, that there was no suspense at all.  Nothing actually happens with the Laura character, except the metastasizing of her vague, selfish unhappiness.  When I watch a movie or read a piece of fiction, I appreciate actual drama, not melodrama.  In fact, nothing irks me more than melodrama; I find it disingenuous, and it undermines the value of a work for me.

This brings me to my main contention with this film (or perhaps even Michael Cunningham's book, which I have not read).  I disagree entirely with Justine's assessment of Laura.  Justine wrote, "I really admired her acknowledgment of her unhappiness and the urgency of having to do something about it; of having to think of herself before others."  I believe the opposite to be true.  Laura had an obligation to Richard and his sister, from which she fled.  What is this film saying about personal responsibility?  About the abuse of the American dream? -- start over whenever you feel like it?  What about the responsibility to accept the consequences of your choices?  (I never believed, for a moment, that she "had no choice.") 

Claire Danes, despite what many say about her acting abilities, actually plays a pivotal role in this film.  When Laura arrives at Clarissa's apartment in New York, Julia says, "So that's the monster."  Yet after Laura's vague, quasi apology for her disappearance, it is Julia who embraces Laura, as if to accept her apology, as if to reach an understanding of why she needed to escape dreaded unhappiness.  But I remained unconvinced; what on earth does "It was death.  I chose life." mean?  It seems to me that she had a comfortable life in LA to which she chose to be oblivious.  (I was upset that I couldn't stand Julianne Moore's character, when I love that actress.  Maude Lebowski, anyone?) 

I remember something Denis Leary said in one of his stand-up specials several years ago: "Nobody's happy.  Ok? Happiness comes in small doses, folks.  It's a cigarette, or a chocolate chip cookie, or a five-second orgasm. That's it.  Ok?"  Every time I watch a film with the central theme of "well-off person searches for happiness because they don't recognize their fortune at having food, a warm house, and comfort," I get angry and end up ranting like this.  

The saving grace I found in this film was Meryl Streep's Clarissa.  Because she devotes herself to Richard and to throwing his party, she is the only character in the film who acts in someone else's interest.  Though she breaks down for a moment in front of Louis, her reason is plausible; she is witnessing the physical and mental decay of her dear friend.  She is the only character who realizes that showing love for others is the road to any kind of happiness.  Streep saved me from hating this film, with her small glimmer of hope.

...even crazy people like to be asked.

I’m sure it was more than the multitude of groans elicited from my father and my grandmother that began my fascination with The Hours from the first time I caught in on television. We tuned in, on shaky ground, right after Virginia kissed Vanessa, and somehow barreled through the movie for a bit, watched something else, and then tuned in just in time to catch Clarissa kissing Sally. No lie. This may seem silly, but this was my first experience with this movie. I had no idea what was really going on, but it was a (relatively) mainstream film and I was caught up in the Philip Glass and the delicious scandalous rush of it all, highlighted by my father and my grandmother’s fierce reactions of disgust and channel-changing. I was hooked and there were so many things I wanted to know. And I couldn’t show it.

This must have been 2005 (and I must have had my license) because the next day, I drove over to FYE and managed to find a used copy of the DVD for six dollars. I watched it that afternoon while dad was at work; no interruptions and no disapproval.

You cannot find peace by avoiding life, Leonard.

On the contrary, this film was one that threw you into the lives of these three women and the people that mattered to them. It was so delicate and yet so ceaselessly courageous, and I have never identified so much with one film, before or since.

From Laura Brown’s story we have the sense of a woman out of sync with her time and place in more ways than one. I really admired her acknowledgement of her unhappiness and the urgency of having to do something about it; of having to think of herself before others. I love her explanation to Clarissa Vaughn:

It would be wonderful to say you regretted it. It would be easy. But what does it mean? What does it mean to regret when you have no choice? It's what you can bear. There it is. No one's going to forgive me. It was death. I chose life.

She teaches Richard that we cannot live for others, try as we may; Richard sees a similar pattern in Clarissa [“Just wait till I die. Then you'll have to think of yourself. How are you going to like that?”].

At the same time, Clarissa expresses emotions that I have certainly felt. [“When I'm with him I feel... Yes, I am living. And when I'm not with him... Yes, everything does seem sort of silly”]. The three impulsive kisses in this film speak to this urgency, this relevancy of the person’s presence in their lives. With Philip Glass’s incredible score to top it off, this movie is intoxicating and inspiring.

The Hours & Mrs. Dalloway

I have read Michael Cunningham's "The Hours" many times and its treatment of "Mrs. Dalloway" was one of the reasons that I took this class in the first place. While I have head Mrs. Dalloway before, it was a long time ago and I'm realizing now, as I re-read it, all the different ways that Cunningham reinvented and utilized Woolf's text for his own book. Since it has been so long since I read Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," the characters and plot lines of "The Hours" had become much realer for me, however, in re-reading it, it's been extremely interesting to see the different ways that Cunningham interpreted certain characters, and if that really made a difference in the way the story is told.

The main characters that Cunningham borrows for his own book are, of course, a revised Clarissa (a lesbian in a long term relationship with Sally) , Richard (a gay novelist with whom Clarissa was once in love and constantly alludes back to), and Peter (both Clarissa and Richard's ex-lover, named Louis in the book). These three characters, who Cunningham also follows throughout a day that ends in a party, echo Woolf's melancholy for Clarissa's past, the complex relationships that exist between them and their own unhappiness with the way things have turned out. While the relationships are clouded and mismatched in Cunningham's novel, he retains Woolf's message through Clarissa and her ex-lovers, and just switches up the players a little bit. He sets Clarissa up with Sally instead, a relationship that Woolf implied, while retaining the weight of her past relationship with Richard, the same way that Woolf's Clarissa cannot ignore her past with Peter. Peter (Louis), who despite being essentially replaced by Richard in Cunningham's novel as Clarissa's great past love, is consistent in his relationship with Clarissa. Though he is no longer cast as someone she once really loved, he is a reminder to her of a happier time, as well as someone that causes her to sharply criticize and herself and her lifestyle.

The changes in Woolf's original work to Cunningham's is not limited to these three main characters. In fact, Septimus, a main character for Woolf, is never mentioned in "The Hours." However, he is not entirely dismissed as his suicide technique is re-used by Cunningham for one of his own characters in "The Hours." Similarly, while Elizabeth is fought over between her mother and her teacher in Woolf's version, Cunningham's Clarissa also battles for influence of her daughter, Julia, with Julia's older and overbearing girlfriend.

Therefore, while Cunningham has, in my opinion, created a successful and revised version of Mrs. Dalloway for a modern audience, the changes he made were simply on the surface. His work is adapted to a different time and a different set of readers, as well as to the role it plays with the other two stories in "The Hours." However, despite all the seemingly drastic changes between Woolf and Cunningham's interpretation of Woolf, many of the general themes remain the same. The story is still about a women unhappy in the life she is leading and living, essentially, haunted by the people of her past. Her relationships with her daughter and her lovers, present or past, still evoke a certain sadness from the reader and a compassion for Clarissa Dalloway/Vaughn. Therefore, though my re-introduction to Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" was, at first, a little overwhelming due to what seemed to be some fairly big changes done on the part of Cunningham in "The Hours," when both stories are looked at more closely it is clear that Woolf's voice is still the one telling the story.--Kathleen Kane