By Elizabeth Lee ‘16
Copy Editor & Film Columnist
“A woman’s whole life in a single day. Just one day. And in that day her whole life,” mutters Virginia Woolf to herself as she sets out to write her novel, “Mrs. Dalloway.” It is this novel that stands at the center of the film “The Hours,” connecting three women across time and space through a kind of stream-of-consciousness experience. An experience that is altogether intimate but also isolating, vague yet so clear, heavy with darkness yet beautiful.
“The Hours” (2002), directed by Stephen Daldry, follows a day in the life of Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), a 1950s California housewife who carries around a well-used copy of Woolf’s book; Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) of New York City in 2002, who is nicknamed after the protagonist of the same book and the author herself; and Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) in 1920s England. Each goes about her day in the most ordinary fashion — preparing a cake for a husband’s birthday, getting flowers for a party, visiting with guests and writing in a journal. Each faces immense suffering, depression and longing, but even such suffering, as part of the long hours that stretch out across time, starts to feel like it remains painfully ordinary. A part of life that is both painful and beautiful but all the same — life. All the while, Mrs. Dalloway quietly haunts them, is a part of them, and alienates them from those around them while connecting them to one another.
It is less a film about what happens story-wise, for life itself does not play out as a narrative which follows a clear plot. It just is, and we make of it what we will by reflecting on our experiences and by interpreting their meanings internally. It is, broadly put, a film about contemplating the differences between things that are seemingly similar or related and the ways in which contrasts can exist simultaneously — life and death, happiness versus meaning, being alone and being lonely, love versus privacy, entrapment and freedom, fiction versus reality. It is akin to the feeling of isolation amidst a crowded party or a silent walk through busy city streets. There is a sense of calm over an internal state of violent emotions and dark thoughts, masking it from the outside world without ever diminishing its intensity. Like the soundtrack — a quiet and melancholy piano playing through the waves of a grand orchestra.
Each woman’s ordinary day ends with some form of death. Then life continues on through the endless hours. The film deals with these themes and events with such matter-of-factness. Life is what it is. But “The Hours” still manages to move through it all with such care and thought, that it is far more satisfying than a mere acknowledgment that after life comes death. “For someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more.” And it is our choice between the two that defines our humanity.
Besides an excellent cast, writing, music and direction, the film also boasts nine Academy Award nominations, including one win for best actress (Kidman). “The Hours” is available for instant stream on Netflix.
You can find all movies reviewed here on Netflix