Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Notes on The Hours

In Stephen Daldry's movie The Hours (2001), when Richard (Ed Harris) says that he seems "to have fallen out of time," his words are a metanarrative of the film itself. Indeed, The Hours as an entity, a film, is "out of time," as we go in and out of time periods at the director's/writer's will. What is more, this time warp is not messy/disorienting; it does not affect the quality of the film, because Daldry and David Hare (the screenwriter) expertly connect the timelines together, using Virginia Woolf and her novel Mrs. Dalloway as the common thread. The three timelines come together mostly through the following themes: depression/oppression, love, and life/death.

Virginia, in the '20s and '40s, is depressed and mentally unstable, Laura (Julianne Moore), in '51, deals with similar issues (e.g., husband/wife power dynamics, individuality, and so on), and both Richard and Clarissa, in 2001, encounter depression as a result of the agony of waiting for death as well as the agony of love. The love theme comes up in Virginia's time, but it becomes more evident as we progress through the time periods (from the '20s and '40s to 1951 to 2001). Regarding love, Laura tells her son that his father will not know that they love him unless they make him a birthday cake, and later on, after she seriously contemplates suicide, she finally tells her son that she loves him. He smiles at this, and here, it seems as though Laura has never said "I love you" to him. Richard echoes this sentiment later on when he says to Clarissa, "You've been so good to me, Mrs. Dalloway. I love you. 'I don't think two people could have been happier than we've been'" (my italics), thus utilizing Virginia('s) (Woolf's) famed words from her real-life suicide note. Finally, as we can gather, life and death are very important in this movie, as Virginia contemplates and later commits suicide, Laura contemplates suicide, and Richard commits suicide (seemingly without thinking much about it).

As we can see, the themes in each time period spill over into each other and create a unified whole. When we finally realize that Laura's son, in 1951, is Richard, in 2001, the movie rapidly comes together, and then concludes. Considering the events and themes in Virginia's storyline, perhaps in Mrs. Dalloway itself, the storylines with Laura, Richard, and Clarissa become extensions of Virginia's own fantasy world, the world in which she writes and sometimes "lives," the world she writes about. We can see this more clearly if we note the suicide subtheme (from death/life) in Virginia's time and its use later in time. Suffice it to say, overall, The Hours is a compelling trip into the mind of one Virginia Woolf; it is "her" story about a group of psychologically "messed up" people, people like her.

P.S. Was anyone else waiting for "Color Blind," by Counting Crows, to start playing? The music in this film reminds me of the beginning of that song!

NOTE: All quotes and paraphrases, of course, come from The Hours.

1 comment:

Roger Market said...

I wanted to mention this in my blog but didn't think it wise, since the post was already so long, and since these comments would have taken the post a little off-track:

This is probably because I took human sexual behavior last semester, but I thought it was interesting how the movie shows culture/experiences as being influential in the psychological mapping/creation of one's sexuality. I cannot figure out if the director/writer created this element on purpose or if it was just a coincidence. Nevertheless, this sexuality theme is closely linked with the love theme that I already mentioned in my blog post. When Richard is young, he sees his mother kiss another woman. While I am not trying to say that this event "made" him gay, I think it is one event that pushed Richard in that direction, an event that told him that perhaps it is okay to love someone of the same sex.

It is also important to note that he may not have been strictly homosexual, considering his ambiguous relationship with Clarissa; in fact, both of them seem bisexual to me, and it only now occurs to me (as I write this), that this makes a lot of sense, as Virginia Woolf was bisexual (see Norton Anthology of British lit or other research). I guess what I am trying to say is that the author of the book version of The Hours, as well as the moviemakers, did a great job with the book and movie. Not only is the story of The Hours accurate in regard to Virginia Woolf, as far as I can tell, it is well-researched and delves deep into Virginia Woolf's psychological underpinnings (even her bisexuality).