The Hours tells the story of three women: Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman), Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), and Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep). Woolf, obviously the well-known and greatly revered artist, is known for her struggles with mental illness and depression. The Hours shows her writing Mrs. Dalloway, a novel about a woman who appears happy on the surface, but she is really not happy. Laura reads the novel thirty years later in 1951 suburban California. In many ways, she is Mrs. Dalloway and the novel has a profound impact upon her life. However, it is Clarissa who lives out the life of Mrs. Dalloway in 2001 New York. A deeply dark and depressing film, The Hours may be a bit too emotionally distant to really resonate, but it is a compelling character study amplified by absolutely stunning performances across the board.
First, we have Virginia Woolf. Book ending the film with her suicide in 1941, director Stephen Daldry takes a reserved approach in telling the story of Woolf for much of the film, except at the end. Disappearing after a visit from a friend, Virginia is found by her husband at the train station, desperately trying to return to London. In this scene, Nicole Kidman honestly steals the show. Moore and Streep are brilliant, but damn. In talking to her husband, she spills her guts and explains the pain of living with the illnesses that she has. As he said that it is hard to manage her illnesses and moods, she heartbreakingly describes the pain of actually living with these issues. Undoubtedly manic depressive, Kidman's pained description of living with these problems is so powerfully acted, both in her delivery and tone, as well as being wonderfully written. Daldry has an issue with on the nose dialogue and this film certainly suffers from it in spots, but this monologue is nuanced, beautiful, and exquisitely executed all around with nothing but a close shot of Kidman to tell the tale. Of course, her story eloquently transitions to Laura Brown in 1951s California. Daldry pain stakingly creates these connections and, though Kidman does not share the screen with her counterparts, there is a match cut at one point. As Woolf "entertains" her friend's children, she lays down next to a dead bird and stares into it with reaction shots of both her face and the bird's. After a reaction shot of Kidman, the film transitions to a reaction and match cut of Laura laying on a bed. Daldry may be obvious and manipulative, but here, he is relatively subtle and uses the editing to tell the tale. A truly remarkable moment of the film.
Portraying the broken Laura Brown, Julianne Moore is brilliant. The most reserved performance of all of the characters, Laura floats by in life. Married to Dan (John C. Reilly) with one son and a daughter on the way, Laura is depressed. Reading Mrs. Dalloway, she no doubt sees herself in the film and, just as with Virginia Woolf, is at the very least bisexual. In 1950s America, however, this is unthinkable, especially in the suburbs. Contemplating suicide, she eventually opts to return to her life, have her child, and leave her family. Described as a "monster" by some and in direct conflict with the belief, expressed by her friend/crush Kitty (Toni Collette), that being a mother is what makes a woman, a woman, Laura can no longer live the lie. To live the lie is to die and she wants to live. Thus, she must leave to avoid being suffocated by a man she is not love and by children she did not really want. It is hard to defend Laura, honestly. Her actions are partially explained by her depression and lack of interest in the world, but hardly defensible. To leave your children is horrible and selfish. The scorn one earns for this is well deserved, especially after seeing scenes with her and her son Richard (Jack Rovello). Sensing that something is wrong when his mom leaves him at a friend's house, Richard panic-strickenly chases after her car. Though she does not kill herself, just as Mrs. Dalloway does not die, Richard knows his mom is still off. Dan, in classic John C. Reilly fashion, is unaware of anything. Moore's role in the film leads into the final segment with Clarissa Vaughn, portrayed by Streep. Now 2001, Richard is a grown man and a revered poet and author, but he is dying of AIDS. Cared for by past lover Clarissa, Richard is near death as Clarissa lives out the plot of Mrs. Dalloway.
Just as in the novel, the poet must die, but not Mrs. Dalloway. Richard, of course, does not survive the film, though Clarissa does. This is the section with the most prominent **** as Richard is **** and separated by his ex-boyfriend Louis Waters (Jeff Daniels). Clarissa herself lives with her girlfriend Sally (Allison Janney) and daughter Julia (Claire Danes). Approaching a party that she is hosting to celebrate Richard's success in writing a novel (which took 10 years to write, she puts on a happy face for the world, but is deeply unhappy.
Where is best to start with a complex, convoluted work like 'The Hours'? The Novelist Michael Cunningham tends to infuse his own **** view of relationships into his characters and the reader. TIME magazine's Richard Schickel's perceptive review of this film version, leans toward being perhaps the most accurate; he summed it up as being; 'Agenda Driven'. Screenplay writer David Hare's jigsaw-like adaption makes excellent use of cinematic creativity - allowing bisexual director Stephen Daldry to juxtapose the inter-related time shifts beautifully indeed. It's via this technique we're best able to see director, writer, editor, and photographer, working so perfectly together.
David Hare is no stranger to the theme of suicide. His own written and directed (sadly, rarely screened) 1985 classic “Wetherby” ’85 is testimony to his sensitivity and skill with this subject. As for the variety of interconnected characters, there's an uncomfortable ambiguity that could make it difficult for some viewers to fully connect with them. Firstly, we have Julianne Moore’s Laura as a classic example: What earlier goals had this woman set for her life before marriage? She has what billions of less fortunate women the world over would gladly trade places for - a comfortable home, caring husband, an adoring 6 yr old son (marvelously played by young Jack Rovello), a daughter on the way, clothes, car, and money to spend. The only solid suggestion the writers offer for her intense suicidal tendencies comes during a visit by Kitty (Toni Collette) her female neighbor - Laura plants a passionate kiss square on the mouth of this very surprised woman - could Laura have been a lesbian all along? - Kitty, who had just finished telling Laura that she feels like a failure because of her inability to conceive, then looks up all doe-eyed at Laura and says 'you’re such a warm woman'...surprise! could it perhaps be that all these years Laura's neighbor may also have been a lesbian?. Perhaps we should look further.... A similar excuse is drawn up for Meryl Streep's Clarissa. She's in a lesbian partnership but cannot let go of strong feelings she holds for an old relationship she had with Richard (Richard is the now **** son of our above-mentioned Laura, and she had abandoned him and his sister years earlier!) This brings to question some theories on same-sex **** Richard really a **** or is he simply avoiding a serious relationship with Clarissa (the woman he constantly claims to love), could Richard's indecision be out of fear that Clarissa might also abandon him as his mother did?. Is Clarissa in fact a true biological lesbian? None of these issues are convincingly made clear.
How many may choose **** relationships, not for biological reasons, but from fear or misunderstandings? These choices have the potential to introduce serious dilemmas as people mature into deeper understandings of themselves. Here, we witness their decisions bring deadly consequences for all involved. Even Richard's male lover admits to Clarissa that he never felt freer than the day he left him! So, what does poor Richard get out of all this? - deadly AIDs and yet more suicide! This brings us to the unfortunate writer of the original novel (Mrs Dalloway) Virginia Woolf; (nicely played by an unrecognizable Nicole Kidman) If we look back over Woolf's life, she has tragically admitted she and her sister were abused by their half brothers ~ She was totally devastated by the death of her parents and brother ~ She also had a lesbian dalliance that soon petered out ~ In the film, Virginia goes on to admit the only time she ever felt fulfilled and at her happiest - was in her relationship with her beloved husband. Yet again, the novelist (Cunningham) rather bizarrely seems to be offering up suggestions that a lesbian relationship might still be her possible savior. Somehow this all has a tendency to look and feel like over-simplistic agenda based reasoning - rather than genuine relationship philosophy.
With stylish direction by Stephen Daldry ~ marvelous editing by Peter Boyle (AKF '92's neglected “Into the West”) ~ dressed to the hilt with so many stunning performances (too difficult to say who’s best) ~ then add Irish born director of photography Seamus McGarvey (known for the odd 'Harry Dean Stanton Partly Fiction') providing dazzling images ~ now wrap it all up in Philip Glass's haunting, insistently minimalist but melodic music score. What you end up with, could be one of the most compelling movies that you just may find all too difficult to watch again. The films surprising success could be attributed to all the above elements but, there have been many other powerful, introspectively themed movies that were unfairly neglected, why? The Hours could prove rewarding for those who can take the intensity - for others; the seconds, minutes, and hours might possibly seem like weeks.
The film is suffering from some very big weaknesses in the storytelling. The dialogue, for instance, are pretty cheap most of the time. The character exposition is too much reliant on the speech that is otherwise mediocre at best.
The characterization is pretty weak. The little boy (who later becomes the AIDS diagnosed patient) acts like a mere house pet. Not developed at all. No wonder he is still a piece of meat in adulthood.