I must say this film was quite breathtaking. While I certainly empathize with all the main characters, my focus must rest upon Richard. The connections are not explicitly clear until almost the end of the movie, but Richard is the binding of the book. As a poet and novelist, Richard's specialty with literature grants him a knowledge of Virgina Woolf's Mrs. Darroway. Though it may seem scatter-brained to see it, this prologue of this work is a parallel of Richard's life. Virigina Woolf's own issues with her lot in life played out through Richard's mother and later in Clarissa, apparently the only woman for whom he ever held romantic feelings.
This, then, is the idea. Richard's life becomes what is seen in the film (a broken man dying of a terrible disease) because of his relationships with women. His mother abandons him at an early age, and his love for Clarissa is unrequited. While it seems simple, this idea downplays the struggles faced by the women in the story, all of whom deal with some form of depression, anxiety, or feeling of emptiness. In the end, as in Woolf's novel, Richard's only escape, only release, is through death. He could no longer bear what his body, and his heart, were putting him through. I must say that Ed Harris's moving display of Richard was perhaps what drew me into the movie most.