By Alexandria Harris
Premise: Three different generations of women are interconnected by the novel Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.
“A woman’s whole life in a single day, and in that day her whole life-” Virginia Woolf, writing Mrs. Dalloway
“Today, sort of like black fire. Sort of light and dark at the same time. There was one like an electrified jellyfish. They were singing. It might have been Greek,”-Richard describing how his guests looked.
“We shall publish no more new authors. I have to tell you I found ten errors in the first proof.”-Leonard, Woolf’s husband.
“Because I wanted to be a writer, that’s all. I wanted to write about it all; everything that happens in a moment, the way the flowers looked when you carried them in your arms in this towel, how it smells, how it feels, this thread. All our feelings, yours and mine. The history of who we once were. Everything in the world. Everything all mixed up, like it’s all mixed up now. And I failed–I failed. No matter what you start with, it ends up being so much less-” Richard, explaining why he didn’t want to be honored.
“I think I’m only staying alive to satisfy you-” Richard.
Pause: All right, basically anything said by Richard is quotable gold.
Suicide. That is how the story begins, which immediately pulls its audience in because now we need to know how and why the story ends from this. Set in the 1900s with flashes forward to 2001, this film boasted an all-star cast. I was hoping it would live up to the way I’d already hyped it up in my head.
Seriously, five seconds into the actors scrolling past, I was thinking in amazement to myself “Who ISN’T in this movie??”
The film continues with the kiss of death for a writer–starting a story where the character is waking in bed. In spite of this, it was interesting. At the beginning, I became confused with the multiple perspectives of the three women: Virginia Woolf in 1923, Laura Brown in the 1951, and Clarissa Vaughn in 2001.
Laura Brown, in 1951, is unhappy with her marriage. You know something is wrong when a man gives a woman flowers on his birthday, and she walks on eggshells like he is an axe murderer.
Vaughn is the energizer bunny book editor, running around and making preparations for her friend, Richard. He is to receive a lifetime achievement award for poetry, and he is very ill from AIDS.
Richard has a dry, self-deprecating humor and refers to Vaughn as “Mrs. Dalloway.” He is fascinating to watch. He has a controlled craziness about him, although I think a writer has to have a little craziness in them if they are touched in the head by the stroke of genius.
Ed Harris played him well–I didn’t know what he was going to do next. Richard wonders if he got the poetry prize because his work was good or because he’s sick.
Woolf is basically put on house arrest by her husband, who runs a publishing company out of their house just to be near her. She has a passive-aggressive show-down with her cooks, which was really impressive, considering the fact that she didn’t look up from the floor.
Meanwhile, Brown is making her husband a birthday cake with her young son, Richie. He asks to sift the flour and tells her that making a cake isn’t difficult. She tells him that they are making the cake to show Daddy they love him. Richie asks–in that sweetly innocent ‘leave-it-to-Beaver voice’ that all movie children have–“Otherwise he won’t know?” And Julianne Moore’s character is undeniably but unintentionally chilling when she answers yes.
The cake failed. Epically.
Apparently the audience needs to know that it’s ridiculously easy to make a cake, and Brown just can’t do it. This probably has more to do with the relationship with her husband and not whether or not she can actually make a cake.
It actually hurt to watch the women in 1951. Exhibit A: “You can’t call yourself a woman until you’re a mother.” I know it was a different time period, with a different set of values, but I had an urge to reach inside the screen and drag those women off to a women’s shelter. It was a cross between the Stepford wives (creepy, fakely bright happiness) and the mentality of a POW.
Kidman (who was barely recognizable as Woolf) spoke in a soft monotone the whole movie. This woman had genius inside her brand of madness. Woolf’s sister visits with her children and they find a dead bird. The sister asks if Woolf is better, if she is listening to her doctors.
The bird funeral, and corresponding conversation between Woolf and her niece is hauntingly beautiful. I got the sense that the suicide scene wasn’t far off, and the stakes started to raise for all of the women.
The film contained many references to reading, the writing craft, and death. Lots of quirky sayings about death. These women all seem trapped in their respective time periods. One by illness, another by convention, and another by fear and denial.
I am definitely watching this movie again, if not solely for Richard’s character. This movie was exactly what a movie about writing should capture. The score was beautiful, cinematography was excellent, the dialogue was amazing, it kept me engaged, and the acting was convincing. And there is a twist!
The film gives the sense that writers are in this world, but barely of it. Both Richard and Woolf seem to be empty of life as they imbue life into their characters, almost as if they are pouring their life force into their work. Brown wants escapism into someone else’s life to hide from her own by reading. And Vaughn doesn’t need a book, she uses Richard and staying busy to hide from her own.
The film also gives a wonderful commentary on why we read and write. I loved the underlying meaning. The only complaint I had is that the beginning sequences seem a little chaotic and rushed. Also, the fact that the women were all depressed and repressed. I don’t want to completely spoil the movie, so you’ll have to watch to see if and how they rise above those issues. I would give this movie a 9/10 for that.
Alexandria Harris is a writer and former reporter on WSUM 91.7. When she isn’t watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, she tweets regularly as @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.