Suicide, sexuality and confused love
Three compelling stories in three separate time periods are seamlessly connected in The Hours, a staggeringly beautiful adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Featuring three of 2002’s best performances from Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep, along with an editing job that deserves the highest of kudos, the film’s intertwined stories are equally interesting and emotionally devastating.
Kidman plays author Virginia Woolf whose novel, Mrs. Dalloway, acts in some ways as a central theme unifying each of the film’s stories. Woolf infamously commits suicide in 1941 after years of struggling with mental illness; Moore’s Laura Brown is having her own struggles with depression in 1951; and Meryl Streep’s Clarissa Vaughn is preparing a party (as Mrs. Dalloway did in the novel), but her party is for an ex-lover (Ed Harris) dying of AIDS.
For most of the movie, I figured that the only way these stories connected was through their central themes of suicide, sexuality and confused love. What director Stephen Daldry manages to do is add mystery elements to the film that result in a conclusion that simply blew me away. I found myself wholly interested in the stories of the three women, and completely blindsided by the way the stories eventually collide.
It’s heartbreaking to see the way Kidman’s Woolf breaks down after a child issues a polite goodbye at the end of a visit. Woolf’s struggles, which have resulted in her isolation in the country, have left her confused and vulnerable, and having a child see her in a mixed-up state results in breakdown. The way Kidman handles this moment is astounding.
The film has many moments like this, moments that struck me as so real they were painful to watch. Moore displays the kind of confusion and sadness that I’ve seen in many married friends and couples. Streep’s obsessive party planning in the face of personal tragedy is a truthful depiction of denial. All of the performances contain perfect little notes that make them seem authentic, as if all of the characters, not just Woolf’s, actually existed.
Film editors don’t get enough credit for their work. The craftsmanship employed by editor Peter Boyle on The Hours is a minor film miracle. Scholars and critics blathered about how Williamson’s novel could not be made into a film, but the combined work of Daldry, screenwriter David Hare and Boyle, among others, has proven them wrong.
To say the movie “jumps” from time period to time period would be a tad insulting. The movie flows beautifully between its stories, and manages a wonderful sense of pace and continuity. Boyle doesn’t resort to any stunts or tricks in connecting the stories, and the viewer should have no difficulty following the plots and themes. Editing awards often go to big budget blockbusters laden with special effects, but Boyle’s work is deserving of consideration.
Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and composer Phillip Glass both do excellent work of bridging the time periods, as well. Glass’ soundtrack is never jarring and never seems out of place. McGarvey captures the lushness of 1941, the sanitary discomfort of ‘51 and the diminished style of the present with expert accuracy. In some ways, the technical crew on this picture found themselves working on three movies. Yet, it all combines for a unified presentation.
This is a sad movie, and offers little in the form of smiles and laughter. The Hours asks many questions about loneliness and love. As far as these three women are concerned, the film doesn’t offer the most optimistic of answers.