The Hours

The Hours (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Stephen Daldry
viewed: 02/22/03 at Park Cinemas, Paso Robles, CA

Chick flick par excellence…or maybe Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood for intellectuals.

I just wanted to make a few stupid jokes before really addressing this film, which is actually quite good. And while the preceding comments have a somewhat derrogatory flavor, they are not utterly inaccurate if one views them less subjectively. The Hours is essentially a literary melodrama, focused on three connected stories about three primary female leads. The film pivots around Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, to which each of the storylines has some connection to, including the “main” story that features Woolf writing the novel. The literary thread also harkens back to the novel (by Michael Cunningham) from which this film was adapted (by noted playwright David Hare).

Each sequence features depression, suicide, and a kiss between two women. And, in essence, these are the roots of some of the film’s themes. Though the film doesn’t explicitly explore the roots of Woolf’s mental illness, there is a sense of repression tied to her confinement as well as an aspect of repression and depression regarding her feelings toward her sister whom she passionately kisses in a desperate, clandestine way. Not knowing enough history about Woolf, I can only go on what the film offers in terms of narrative here, and so, though there is implication of something more than traditionally sisterly love, it’s never foregrounded and explained. One can easily imagine that an incestuous relationship could be a site of repressed feeling and potential sadness, though the film does not imply this as the sole impetus behind her general depression and ultimate suicide.

There is a sense of evolution in the stories in this regard. In the storyline set in the 1950’s Julianne Moore plays a woman not at all at ease with her life as a homemaker and mother. In a sudden, empathetic kiss to her family friend, a potential glimpse of the reality that she is repressing comes suddenly to light. Though her friend ignores the action as though it hadn’t happened, it seems to spark some realization for Moore, and she is driven to suicidal thoughts. Moore’s character ultimately overcomes her situation by running from it and starting anew. She survives, but presumably at some cost, alienating her children, friends, and family, but not dying. The viewer can only speculate on the life she is implied to have lived.

The contemporary sequence, which features Meryl Streep as a possible embodiment of character of Mrs. Dalloway, shows a further evolution of similar themes. For Streep’s character, the repression and sadness are embodied in the figure of the dying poet (played by Ed Harris), her one true love. Comparatively, her repression is almost inverted in that her long term open relationship is with a woman and her repressed longing and love is for a man. Streep’s character, though tormented by her poet friend’s long illness and depression, is ultimately never pushed to the brink of suicide. Comparatively, her problems are managed.

I am not totally sure of what the film was intended to express entirely. It is interestingly structured and seems quite intelligently written. Nicole Kidman is excellent, as is Meryl Streep. I am sure that under further analysis, something coherent could be extrapolated, though I won’t do that here.

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