Monday, August 5, 2013

The Hours

“I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel I can't go through another one of these terrible times and I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices and can't concentrate so I am doing what seems to be the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I know that I am spoiling your life and without me you could work and you will, I know. You see I can't even write this properly. What I want to say is that I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. Everything is gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.“

Three women in three different places at three different times threaded into a single narrative.
Virginia, Laura, and Clarissa. And of course, Mrs. Dalloway.

This film is not meant for entertaining its viewers. Rather, it offers a non-linear and layered watching and thinking experience that takes you through a spectrum of shades - perturbation and calm, conflicts and singularity, insanity and peace, characters and characters, moments and hours. Watch it alone, or with someone you can connect with in an emotional and cerebral space.

It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and she is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later, to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk, the anticipation of dinner and a book...What lives undimmed in her mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond. There is still that singular perfection, and it's perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.

“I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself: So, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn't the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment. Right then.”

Due to sheer nature of narrative, it is futile to provide any plot summary of this film. One can roughly sum up as below but it will not reveal much about the soul of the movie.

The movie unfolds and wraps up with the real suicide note of Virginia Woolf. At one dawn, she puts on her overcoat, fills her pockets with stones, and walks into a nearby river to drown herself.

Between such a beginning and an end, the story flows through a day in the life of the 3 female protagonists : Virginia herself (1920’s England), Laura (1950’s LA) and Clarissa (2000’s NY). The key elements in these 3 lives are loneliness, conflicts – (social / sexual / emotional), suicides, love - or the search of it, and a novel / character called Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia writes this book, Laura reads it, and Clarissa quotes and is nicknamed from it by the person she loves. Virginia is the process of completing her book but suffers from extreme dementia where her husband frantically but ineffectively tries to support her. Laura is a bisexual country housewife with a loving son and husband and she is expecting her second child in a few months’ time – even as she is completely disconnected from the life she lives. One fine morning after baking a cake for her husband’s birthday, she checks into a hotel room with bottles of sleeping pills to end the life she cannot take anymore. Clarissa is a modern day editor who stays with her female partner & adopted daughter and a relentlessly caring love for her former boyfriend who is now dying from AIDs, and is able to live through each day only with her help.

These 3 lives are not connected by the narrator, even though couple of characters from the second story come back at the end of the third, but in my mind, only ironically. Still, there is no surprise ending, or things or strings tying up at the end to give a made-easy summary to the audience. The stories, the characters are fundamentally sketched to remain discrete and bold independent presences that get etched in the viewers’ hearts on their own merit, sharing their own unique minds and experiences. They ask questions, give fewer answers, play in soliloquies, and take you through an amazing experience.

We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself. There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds & expectations, to burst open & give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning, we hope, more than anything for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so.

To briefly touch upon the cast of the movie, both Nicole Kidman (as Virginia) and Meryl Streep (as Clarissa) were brilliant in character portrayals, especially the close shots’ facial expressions and dialogue deliveries were too beautiful and delicately done. Julianne Moore (As Laura) is also worth mentioning but unfortunately others around her stole the show. Ed Harris was just about as vulnerable and sensitive as Richard needed to be. And a special mention for whoever was the makeup artist, for the job done to transform Nicole Kidman into a classic Virginia Woolf, Laura’s old age recreation and Richard’s deathly AIDS makeup.

Although this is a 1990’s film fully watched very late by me, I will not give spoilers and refrain from summing up the end of journeys for each of the characters. Not that it matters to the extent the film or journey itself does. For instance, which ones of the 3 suicides are successful, who survives, who gets love to survive, or who, if anyone at all, finds that ever eluding happiness thing.

There was a suicide each, and a party each, and a crisis each, and a life each – in all three parts of “The Hours”. Let us put it this way – the life remained after all the rest became meaningless.

What only matter are the moments that came by in your life, the breath of a love that you know in your heart to be sacred and a truth, the happiness you can sometimes give yourself only by giving it to those you love; and nothing else beyond that.

“To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face and to know it for what it is.
At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away.
Always the years between us, always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.

These were the last lines of Virginia’s suicide note written to her loving husband.

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