The Hours (2003)


  

Our Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

       

Many people, including family and friends, believe this to be a thought-provoking and worthwhile film. With all due respect to their opinion, I found it both disturbing, offensive on many levels, and ultimately depressing. I didn't actually want to review this film, but since such a stir has been caused by Nichole Kidman's award-winning performance in The Hours, I resigned myself to penning out my thoughts on one of the most remarkable, daring, and ultimately morally askew films of the year. Some of us will be familiar with Virginia Woolf, the great American novelist whose controversial work Mrs. Dalloway has become something of a classic. Her story is ultimately tragic, and this film which follows not only her life, but the lives of two other women reading the novel in different time periods, is as equally despairing.

 

The opening scene sets the stage for a melancholy story ultimately about emotion and despair. Psychologically the film is intense and thought-provoking but dangerous in its overall messages. Even if you can overcome the lesbian aspect, the film's dark atmosphere and brooding countenance will appeal only to a very narrow range of viewers. We watch as a woman fills her gown pockets with stones, and wades into a river, drowning herself. Eighteen years before, Virginia Woolf (Nichole Kidman) is struggling with her sanity. She writes frantic passages in her novel, hears voices inside her head, and succumbs to dark moods. In an attempt to raise her spirits, her husband Leonard has removed her from London into a quiet suburb. It has the opposite effect. Mrs. Dalloway becomes her only means of self-expression. The pages churn out under her frantic, exhausted fingers... touching the world around her.

 

In WWII-era LA, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) turns the pages, eagerly devouring the world Virginia Woolf has created. Her own life is bitter and full of despair. She feels something missing. She has settled into deep depression. Even the simplest tasks are difficult and give little cheer. Mrs. Dalloway is her only comfort, her companion in the darkness which threatens to envelope her. In the modern world, another woman has succumbed to the poetic pages... Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep), who seems determined to live out Virginia's desire. But even her life is unhappy. She lives with her lesbian lover, but soon comes to realize the real love of her life is Richard, a man dying of AIDs with whom she had a heterosexual fling in her youth. Three very different women. Three different worlds. Through Mrs. Dalloway they are united... but their lives will ultimately be shaped by different paths.

 

Even with its flaws, The Hours is a fascinating piece of work and proves the power of influence. A book drives three women nearly over the edge time and time again, until at last their fates are singularly united. Emotionally we watch three women choose their own paths, sometimes leading to happiness, sometimes to despair. Ultimately the feeling one is left with is sorrow for a godless life, an emotionally-distraught near insanity mingled with depression, in which no gleam of Truth flickers in the darkness. Manic depression is a very serious illness, and the film doesn't treat it lightly. The performances are quite good, particularly Nichole Kidman, who is barely recognizable under a thick facade of makeup, a bulbous prosthetic nose, and a heavy English accent. She almost loses herself in the role to such an extreme that we forget it's an actress and not Virginia Woolf herself. Julianne Moore fits in surprisingly well with her 1940's setting, and I came to appreciate Meryl Streep as the story progressed. The rest of the cast is also standout, even Claire Danes in a minor and almost overlooked role.

 

The film does ultimately revolve around lesbianism. It's inevitable, conceding the fact that Mrs. Dalloway's plot is about a woman remembering a brief lesbian romance in her youth. This makes The Hours a rocky road, even if you were willing to wade through two hours of dark and often depressing suicidal musings in the first place. It's far from an uplifting ride and could potentially be dangerous to teens tottering on the edge. It's a brilliant piece of filmmaking, but the homosexual aspect (including several same-sex kisses), two suicides (not explicit but intense) and some strong language (one f-word, four abuses of Jesus' name, and minor profanity) make The Hours seem more like eons. As noted by other Christian reviewers, it's a dangerous film that tries to persuade us God's intentions for romantic passion are wrong, that attraction for those of the same sex is natural, and that yes, suicide can ultimately be an escape, if not the answer. It's a somber river to wade.