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The Hours: Well Worth Your Time

Nicole Kidman is Stunning as Virginia Woolf

By Kevin Der

The Hours

Written by David Hare

Based on the novel by Michael Cunningham

Directed by Stephen Daldry

Starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep

Rated PG-13

I never would have thought it possible that I would enjoy a film about three women and a novel by Virginia Woolf. Ordinarily, such a picture would have carried an unsurpassable potential for boredom and malcontent. Yet there is nothing at all ordinary about The Hours, which follows three women in three different time periods, who are all linked by Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway. The incredible acting talent of the entire cast makes The Hours, which won Best Picture (Drama) at Sunday night’s Golden Globe awards, one of the best films of the year.

In Mrs. Dalloway, title character Clarissa Dalloway gets out of bed one day, prepares to throw a party, and suddenly realizes she is not happy. In The Hours, one woman writes this novel, another reads it, and the third lives it -- but all three emulate the life of Clarissa in some way. These three storylines, which each span a single day, though occuring at different time periods during the twentieth century, are presented concurrently during the film.

Nicole Kidman plays the first of the three women, Virginia Woolf, whose mental illness and repeated suicide attempts led caring husband Leonard to bring the couple to a small country home away from London. The opening scene, one of the most disturbing I’ve seen with the exception of those from several Kubrick films, has Woolf walking into a river with her coat pockets filled with stones, and establishes the gloomy and depressing tone that exists throughout the entire picture.

Kidman’s performance as Virginia Woolf is extraordinary. She earned a well deserved Golden Globe award for it last Sunday. The author’s silent broodings and preoccupation with her writing perfectly are captured perfectly, as are the situations in which Woolf struggles to find the right words, both to speak and to put down on paper. Kidman is remarkable in the incredibly moving scenes in which we see her condition degenerate further. At one point, Woolf lies down on the ground and stares at a dead bird, as if examining death, a central theme in the film.

Julianne Moore’s character, Laura Brown, is a housewife whose story takes place after Woolf’s, in the 1950s. She is reading Mrs. Dalloway while preparing a cake with her son for her husband’s birthday. Despite her loving family, Brown eventually contemplates suicide, feeling that her role as a housewife is trivial. The result is a portrait of a desperate mother and wife who feels imprisoned by life and cannot bear to face another day.

I feel this is Moore’s best performance to date, although I have not yet seen Far From Heaven, for which Moore was nominated for a Golden Globe. She, like Kidman, perfectly conveys the emotional torment of her character. It is impossible not to be disturbed when Moore, crouched in the bathroom, stifles her sobs from her worried husband as she ponders about abandoning her family.

The third and final story features Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep), who finds herself living Woolf’s novel in the present day as the main character, and she is even called Mrs. Dalloway by her friends. Clarissa is preparing to throw a party for her life-long friend Richard (Ed Harris), an award-winning poet suffering from AIDS. Like the two women before her, Streep’s character also becomes emotionally distraught and depressed, and feels her life has no purpose.

The interaction between Clarissa and Richard is one of the strongest bonds shown in the film. Richard’s tremendous suffering is disturbing and saddening. Eventually we see the dying man perched in an open window and ready to jump, in front of Clarissa’s eyes -- the third attempt at suicide in the film.

These three storylines are linked in more ways than mere plot similarities. The most central idea is that the same mindset is shared by all three women, and that they experience the same emotions. It is an extraordinary fact that their entire lives can be wholly captured in a single day of storytelling. The film employs abundant and effective symbolism of flowers, eggshells, and shoes, among other things, which further connects these three human beings.

I feel the fundamental question of The Hours asks which of these three women was the happiest, and why. Indeed, this is difficult to answer, since none of them are very happy at all in the time that we see them. Love and relationships clearly play a central role in this answer, as do illness and death. Perhaps Kidman’s most influential words in the film are, “Someone has to die so the rest of us can value life more.”

The Hours makes us ponder, it makes us probe at our own existence. It will deeply affect anyone who values thought in cinema. The Hours is a fantastic film with outstanding acting and an incredibly human theme.