In school, we never read much literature in language classes. Now, middle school we did actually read some teen books, but when high school rolled around, that number reduced itself drastically. Senior year, we read one book in French and two in German – zero in English class, which instead focused time and time again (and I don’t mean this in an inherently negative way, except that I do) on discussing teenage pregnancies, child pageants and plastic surgery.
Throughout the years, I’ve taken to reading quite a few (modern) classics by myself, as anyone who likes to read would. It wasn’t long ago, however, that I started reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. I simply adored her writing and was pleased reading a beautifully written fictional piece as opposed to non-fictional texts for university.
There’s this one moment that stuck with me. It’s Orlando, waiting for his beloved Russian princess, planning to leave his beloved home with and for her. It’s the middle of the night, he’s alone and anxious. Will she come? She must! Right? And then, suddenly and unexpectedly, he’s being punched and thrown out of his previous state of daring not even to breathe. Only then does he – and alongside him I, the reader – notice that there’s nobody here to attack him. It has simply started to rain. Completely fixated on silently waiting for the one that captured his heart (she doesn’t show up), even the tiniest raindrop felt like a forceful blow.
And I remember being just as surprised by those tiny drops of water as he must have been, after nervously waiting for someone we both suspected might not show up. After reading this passage, after months and weeks and hours of reading either theoretical texts or pretty much nothing at all, I found myself reading for the joy of it. I could finally read again!
Before this introduction gets any longer and you, dear reader, start to wonder if you’ve stumbled upon the wrong article (isn’t FlipScreen supposed to be about movies and TV shows?), I want to start talking about exactly that!
That means I won’t go on (not much, at least) about my admiration for Woolf’s writing. I’m also not here to complain about how much I’d appreciate being able to see Vita and Virginia – a film that totally exists, yet never actually released, at least not in a way I could watch it – except that I’ve totally used these few lines right here to do just that. Hah! Get that squared away.
But that’s it, I promise! We made it, we’re here (at least I hope you still are) and ready to talk about a film! And that film is The Hours (2002). You see, I seem to have a knack for writing articles about 2000s movies I haven’t seen before because I was too young back then. In case you’re in the same situation (are you?): The Hours is a drama film starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep in the roles of three women connected throughout decades by Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, with Kidman playing the writer herself.
To sum it up quickly: it’s a film about bisexual women who suffer from depression and like to write or read. That probably already sounds like something I’d be interested in, doesn’t it?
Aside from the first and final scene, everything else takes place within the span of a single day, albeit that one day takes place throughout three points of time. From beginning to end, the film cuts through time and space and different, yet so very similar lives. There’s plenty of beautiful match cuts, especially at the beginning, which introduces us to the start of an average day (is it? no!) in the lives of these characters.
“A woman’s whole life in a single day. Just one day. And in that day her whole life.”– Virginia
And just like that, Laura (Moore) picks up a copy pf Mrs. Dalloway and starts reading a mere second after Virginia first dips her pen into the ink some 28 years earlier. Whereas Virginia’s mental health struggles are apparent to anyone, Laura, feeling insanely trapped as a stay at home mother with a second child on the way, puts on a smile and continues her quiet suffering.
At the first impression, it’s Clarissa (Streep) who seems to be the most content with her life, walking in a shop to get flowers for a party she’s planning – yet already here any former prepositions about her state of mind are revealed to be superficial and inaccurate.
After all: Clarissa? Party? Getting the flowers herself? That does sound all too familiar, huh? Aside from conveniently sharing her first name with the famous Mrs. Dalloway, Streep’s character is without a doubt the closest to Woolf’s fictional character, a modern Clarissa Dalloway. In the case of the film. Clarissa plans a party for her friend and former lover Richard, who is about to be awarded a prize for his work as a poet. Suffering from AIDS and claiming to have only been awarded the prize because he’s to die soon, Clarissa insists on assembling the perfect party, like both his and her life depend on it.
Watching the film, I couldn’t help but think that Clarissa might very likely dread that a part of her is dying with him, has been dying alongside him this whole time. She asks herself, as I’m sure the other characters (and all of us, eventually) do: “Why is everything wrong?”
Of course that’s a very cynical thing to say, isn’t it? Not everything can be wrong, not at all times. Never, even. But why are things wrong – if there were someone to blame, is it us or the world?
Don’t you ever ask yourself if we are somehow created to suffer or made to create our own suffering? When I’m depressed, am I depressed because of the way I live or can’t live in the world around me or because of what’s going on within the confined space of my mind that I couldn’t possibly escape from. It’s likely the latter, or it might very well be both.
I wouldn’t claim to know the answer (would you?), I just know that no matter the circumstances of your mental suffering, you always experience yourself suffering. Others may not notice, may not want to, or perhaps you wouldn’t want them to. But you cannot escape yourself, you’re living yourself. I’m living myself.
“I’m living in a town I have no wish to live in. I’m living a life I have no wish to live.”– Virginia
After all these questions I’ve just bombarded you (and myself) with, I want to direct things back to the movie by making a point of how it portrays how one portrays oneself. Here’s a telling example:
At one point during the film, Laura receives a visit from her friend Kitty, who talks about her exciting life and how content she’s with it. Yet even Kitty’s façade crumbles quickly, revealing she’s struggling with not being able to get pregnant, fulfilling the image of a happily married woman in the suburbs. After sharing a kiss with Laura (every lead actress kisses a woman in this film!), Kitty leaves, seemingly having put her disguise of the ever so happy wife back on. Just as if it were a dress for Sunday church, one you wear every day, one you’re usually only stripped naked from within the turbulently quiet headspace of your own mind.
Similar to said breakdown by a secondary character, Clarissa’s façade begins not to crumble, but to violently crash down after a conversation with an Ex of Richard. “I seem to be unravelling”, she declares before sliding down on her kitchen floor, sobbing.
To me, the film illustrates that, no matter what you present to other people as being you, that “everything is fine”- version of ourselves we might try to display, won’t hold up forever. Because rather sooner than later, rather unexpectedly and unwanted, those pieces of paint you’ve put over what feels like your torn-canvas-self crumble down.
Virginia lives with her paints washed off. She’s well aware of her situation, more than anyone around her who might think that they are. She is, after all, the one living with and as herself. She endures and she creates, crafting a story others will later read and be inspired by (Laura) or might just bring to life (Clarissa).
There you have the writer, the reader and the persona. There you have your story. And now what?
Now we end it. We end it with an attempt at a finely crafted (is it?) final statement. Here we go:
Watching this movie hit close to home in terms of it depicting the feeling of helplessness and embitterment that comes along as you’re living alongside your depressed state of mind, your depressed state of yourself.
Aside from that – and here I am ruining what I said about my final declaration, although that might be for the better – it really made me want to read Mrs. Dalloway. Well, that’s actually not totally correct. It’s rather that I wished to have already read the book before watching the movie!
Well, perhaps that’ll be the case with a different book, another film adaption, a next article.