How to do so is a question that haunts the characters of "The Hours." the film made from the book by Michael Cunningham and now nominated for Best Picture. In this modern examination of Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," two modern women and Woolf herself try to transcend the mundane while grappling with suicidal despair. We discussed the movie with Moore as the final segment of this week's Oscar series.
How did you like the movie?
I liked it very much. I haven't enjoyed a film as much since "Eyes Wide Shut." I especially enjoyed the performances, especially that of Nicole Kidman. I could have watched her as Virginia Woolf for hours. I'm not a fan of Philip Glass's music, and I found the music distracting. I thought it dominated the action and didn't enhance it.
Meryl Streep's character says at one point, "Why is everything wrong?" Did the movie explain well what is wrong?
Fortunately, it doesn't give simplistic explanations from the character's personal past. Instead, it shows how any of us can be deeply shaken by mysterious developments, how these disturbances lead to thoughts and even acts of suicide, and how other people are affected and involved.
These issues are often obscured in more amateur attempts to interpret anxiety. As they ar portrayed in this film, these three lives help us meditate on anxiety and deep disturbance as a human experience, beyond time and place. This is how I like to consider the troubles we get into--as archetypal, basically human conundrums that will never be fully explained and only occasionally "cured."
The closest we get to naming what's wrong is when Ed Harris suggests Meryl Streep needs busyness-caring for him included--to "have a life." It's a question of meaning, to which the answer seems to be death.
Few films I can think of focus on death the way "The Hours" does. It begins with Virginia Woolf walking into the river with stones to weigh her down. The direction in this film is down, as in falling from a window. Two commit suicide, one tries, and another is looking for life.
Julianne Moore's character, Laura Brown, looks at her home--too clean, uninteresting, and predictable--and has to leave it. Years later, she explains that to her, that place was death. Remember how the birthday party scene was so lifeless. It took place in a morgue of a home.
As a therapist, I've always felt that the thing people really fear is life's vitality. You don't know where it will take you if you surrender to it, so you opt out in a life full of symptomatic, symbolic death. You get a job you don't love, you stay in a marriage for all the wrong reasons, you force your children to give up their natural wildness through school and lessons and babysitters. You eat food that is fast and dead. You buy machines that simulate life, or present it to you on a variety of screens. So I don't think this film is as much about meaning as it is about life and death.
What I liked about "The Hours" is that each of the main characters does what he or she has to do--none of them chooses a conventional solution. In fact, none of them finds a solution. The point is, life doesn't have a solution because it isn't a problem in the first place. It's full of challenges and empty spaces, meaning and meaninglessness, hope and despair.
There is no cure for life, and there is no way to do it right. I think this film is quite successful in appreciating this very unmodern and unAmerican truth. It doesn't have the usual arc of challenge and resolution. It's more like life itself, not an arc at all but a day-to-day melange of people and incidents that serve either life or death, and often one is really the other in disguise.
What you say about people choosing a symbolic death strikes a chord. Ed Harris's suicide almost seems like an admirable choice.
I saw Ed Harris's suicide as neither positive nor negative. I expected it all along, but I also identified with Clarissa's efforts to keep him in life right up to the end. His suicide seemed to come out of a deep, dark night of the soul. In that understandable darkness, he thought his life was over, or maybe he just didn't want to be in that condition any longer. You hear that often from people lying on a hospital bed.