When you have a cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly and Jeff Daniels it is almost assured that the film will be great for acting along. When you add Stephen Daldry to the mix as the director, it is promised that the films composition will also be something extraordinary. Combine this together and you have a perfect film that will, undoubtedly, leave you an emotional wreck by its end. This is clearly the case with the 2002 film The Hours, which received unprecedented praise and hype, and deservedly so, because it is cinematic magic in its most realized form. I may come to realize this as my favorite film of 2002 and one of my favorites of the past decade, although I would have to further examine my choices at a later date. It is an incredibly movie film that reminds viewers of the beauty and fragility of love, as well as the innate insanity of human desires. Furthermore, the addition of a Phillip Glass soundtrack only makes what should seem melodramatic incessantly emotive and provocative. Psychologically speaking, The Hours will grip viewers in incredibly visceral ways, despite it being a decidedly understated film. I would group this work along the lines of something like A Single Man or some of the more vivacious episodes of Mad Men. The Hours is a film one needs to view, if only for its delicate use of literary material, but most certainly for its transcendent answer to monotonous Hollywood filmmaking.
The Hours follows three narratives, centering on the build up to the suicide of Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman). The Woolf portion focuses on her relationship to her husband Leonard (Stephen Dillane), one that is tense at best. Despite his best efforts to keep Virginia at bay, considering her increasing sickness, the ailing writer desires to be freed to write her work Mrs. Dalloway. At the same time, Virginia anticipates the arrival of her sister and her children, only to scare them away considering her preoccupation with death. Ultimately, the burden off it all proves to great for Virginia, and as history has told us, she loads her coat with rocks and walks to the center of a river to drown. The second narrative focuses on a fifties housewife named Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) who is clearly disillusioned with her life and finds her self relating far to closely to the suicidal character in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Despite having a loving husband, played on point by John C. Reilly, and the clear adoration of her son, Laura desires to escape her life because it only provides her a façade of happiness. She plans to kill herself, like the protagonist in the novel, but decides that running away will prove more fruitful. The third narrative ties the previous two together, focusing on the life of a openly gay New York writer named Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) who clings to her fragile relationship with her ailing poet friend Richard (Ed Harris) whose recent diagnosis with AIDS leads him to be bitter and distancing. His attitude is only worsened by the fact that he is the son of Laura Brown from the previous narrative, causing him to suffer from serious abandonment issues. Richard, keen to Clarissa’s suffering, nicknames her Mrs. Dallowy, a name that Clarissa carries with an unusual amount of pride. Ultimately, Richard kills himself and Clarissa is left to clean up the pieces, most notably encountering a now aged Laura who states her reasons for abandoning her family, claiming that she does not feel guilty about her decision, because it was either that or to die. Clarissa in a rather round-about way forgives Laura and the two’s narratives thus end, the film then cuts back to Virginia reading the final excerpts of her suicide letter, reminding her husband Leonard, that despite her imminent death that they will always have “the hours” they spent together.
The Hours, as should be expected given its close ties to Virgina Woolf, is ultimately concerned with discussing issues of women’s lack of voice. Woolf, clearly suffers the worst case of this throughout the film considering the era in which she lived. Despite her clear genius as a writer and ability to be self-sufficient she is ultimately at the whim of her husband and the other males in her world, that deem her state of existence unsuitable for the public eye, thus forcing her to exist entirely in the private sphere. After a failed attempt to escape such a life, Virginia kills herself to escape the despair of such a life, it is likely that if Leonard and other had allowed her access to the public world such actions would never have occurred. Similarly, Laura suffers from such burdens. The Laura narrative is indicative of the Betty Friedan notion of “the problem with no name.” It is clear that Laura despises her lifestyle, yet given the conservative nature of the fifties and the patriarchal dominance that existed, Laura could not challenge any of these problems. Even considering the clearly open nature of her husband, her option to rebel was not there, because to oppose the system then was simply not an option. Even Clarissa, who represents the most advanced of women in the narrative, suffers from her own issues of silencing. She is an openly gay woman with access to considerable wealth and education, yet it appears as though she still lacks a voice in some sense. Perhaps it is her inability to win a prize or her continued desire to please the males in her world, but she suffers from a disillusion even greater than that of Laura. In fact, it is not until Laura confronts her about her own problems in a past era, that Clarissa is able to take solace in her own state of power and freedom. Ultimately, a film like The Hours shows an evolution of women’s oppression from the completely disenfranchised to the relatively free, yet is careful to note the continue need for forward momentum, while also acknowledging the advancement from the past. Like the title suggests, reminds women that they should move away from oppression, as it is the only way to enjoy the hours of their lives.
The Hours was robbed of a Best Picture Oscar from Chicago, a film that I have not seen, but I, nonetheless, doubt is better than it. Owning a copy is not essential, but it is well worth grabbing if you like any of the factors of filmmaking noted in the opening paragraph.