curiouser and curiouser

The Hours

1)  The Hours is linear, divided into its respective stories but unmistakingly and sometimes unbearably linear.  Even after thirty minutes, the action is still so muted, the characters still conversing so quietly that we may be begging for someone to break a plate or fly off the handle if only to keep our attention through the rest of the film.  Certain scenes are teasingly dramatic, the perfect setup for shouting or tears – Richard puts up a fight about the party in his honor but Clarissa manages to diffuse his opposition, extract a promise that he will show up.  Virginia Woolf moves through her scenes in a manner so detached at first that she could be a ghost already, and Laura is teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown but never quite tips over.  The film is slow, perhaps necessary given that all the action must take place within a single day for each of the three storylines, but the gradual cinematic buildup is representative of the various mental ailments and environmental factors that have been slowly dragging these women (and Richard) down into their self-contained hells.  The climaxes do come, eventually, and if we hang in there through the end we may not ultimately be satisfied but neither are we left untouched by the characters, undisturbed by the pacing and unviolated by the quiet tragedy of this presentation of life.

2) These first excerpts of Michael Cunningham’s novel are indicative of the most significant difference between novel and film, that while the pacing of the action remains similar in both mediums, the film is missing the narrative voice that is so like Virginia Woolf’s own writing as to be almost certainly intentional on Cunningham’s part.  Within brief time spans, such as Clarissa crossing Central Park or meeting Walter on the street – the simple seconds as Clarissa attempts to read Walter’s thoughts of her – within these scenes that might otherwise be insignificant if told in a more straightforward narrative there is a stream-of-consciousness that lends weight and introspection to these subtle interactions.  Woolf’s novels can be infuriating, the rambling tone and assumptions that human beings have each other so intimately figured out, but if Cunningham is channeling Woolf here then he is at least paring down the rambles and leaving some mystery in the private thoughts of characters who are less telepathic than simply experienced enough to read the expressions on each other’s faces.  The film cannot help but lose this voice, but compensation comes in the form of the leading actresses who manage to translate narrative rumination into understated yet deeply emotional characters.

3)  Facebook thread from a Nicole Kidman Facebook fan page discussing her role in The Hours  Interview with Stephen Daldry and Nicole Kidman about the film  Movie review

I thought that the Facebook thread was the most interesting, and even though I’ve sincerely disliked both the novel and the film adaptation of The Hours ever since I had to study it for another class, I got a better sense of the Virginia Woolf role from reading what other people thought about Nicole Kidman’s portrayal.  Even though the story never quite resonated with me, the acting was still emotional and intimate enough to make an impact.

4) How does homosexuality (including lesbianism) function within the film? If you took out the gay characters and their concerns, how would that change the film?

Homosexuality is a device that casts several of the characters as outsiders who have had to find their own niche in life but seem unable to trust in the foundations they have built for themselves, whether they are part of the modern segment in which sexuality must be worn like war paint or the historical segments in which homosexuality is a dangerous otherness that must be tucked away into a dark corner of one’s mind and left to fester into mental illness.  When Louis asks Clarissa if she is still with Sally, Clarissa replies that they have been together for ten years now, and isn’t it strange?  Louis seems confused by this implication that the length of the women’s relationship should be a rarity, or anything to wonder at, but even after giving an embarassed chuckle and changing the subject it is clear that Clarissa at least sees her relationship as such.  Richard’s homosexuality has, in effect, shortened his lifespan, but it is Richard himself rather than his disease that ultimately ends his life – this distinction suggests that sexuality is only one of the factors that create considerable doubt within the characters’ hearts and minds, an idea further supported by Clarissa’s worsening mental state as she prepares for Richard’s party and becomes plagued by her obssession that everything must be perfect.  If the gay characters and their concerns were omitted from the film, the remaining characters would still be haunted by the other concerns and uncertainties that are a constant presence in life.  Homosexuality is a dominant theme in the film but not necessarily the crux of everyone’s misery, which is probably a good thing, considering.


Comments on: "The Hours" (2)

  1. Another perfect 10! Did you read any Virginia Woolf for your class, or just Cunningham’s novel? If you read Woolf, you might appreciate Cunningham’s book and the film more. Or maybe not. 10/10.

    Joseph Byrne

    • I read Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Between the Acts, and To the Lighthouse for another class, but it took me a while to get past my intial aversion to her writing style. I appreciate the ambition of Cunningham’s novel as a man writing women’s voices, and I do like the book much better than the film – for some reason, I could just never get into the movie. I made my sister watch it with me for this assignment, and having to explain the Mrs. Dalloway references and some other little details definitely helped me pay better attention. I should prolly make her watch all the movies with me.

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