The Hours (2002)

Directed by Stephen Daldry

I don’t know if it’s necessary to have studied English literature, or to be familiar with Virginia Woolf and her works, but it certainly helps when watching the movie The Hours. I think someone unfamiliar would still enjoy the film but whether it’s as accessible, I don’t know.

It’s especially helpful (I think) to have read Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway since the film is, in some ways, an improvisation from the story.

The movie is wonderfully, and complexly, structured and this is one of the great appeals of the film. As it progresses, you begin to see how the various elements relate. In a sense, it is something of a mystery (though not in terms of genre). You get hints and clues as the film unfolds.

The movie is three stories, related and interwoven. There is the Virginia Woolf story (Nicole Kidman) which focuses on her life in suburban Richmond where she has been taken because of her mental difficulties (probably bipolar depression). Here, she begins writing her novel, Mrs. Dalloway.

Then there is the story of Mrs. Dalloway (Meryl Streep), not the one from the novel but a present day Mrs. Dalloway who reflects the character from the book.

I’m not sure this is actually her name, it may simply be the name she has been given by her friend and former lover, the poet played by Ed Harris (who is dying, presumably from AIDS, though this isn’t stated). This is a woman whose busy social activities (giving parties, beaming smiles) hide the emptiness and pain in her life.

Finally, there is the early 1950’s suburban housewife played by Julienne Moore. She is a woman who seems always on the verge of screaming as she covers her unhappiness and tries to meet the expectations of a wife of that period. While not stated overtly, there is the implication that her real problem is that she is lesbian at a time when that was simply not an option. It is why she doesn’t fit in this world however much she tries.

It’s difficult to describe much more of the film without giving away its secrets. The movie has a bit of a reputation as being depressing but, while it is thematically dark (with meditations on suicide and mental anguish), it is really the very opposite of this.

This is articulated late in the film when Virginia Woolf is asked by her husband why a character in her novel must die.

Her answer states the theme of the film.

For me, one of the great pleasures of the film is seeing how the pieces connect as it plays out. The stories all interrelate and watching the film is like a voyage of discovery.

It’s also an ensemble piece flush with great performances throughout. The three lead performances, Kidman, Streep and Moore are all exceptional and each in a distinct way.

I wish I had seen this film earlier than I did. It came out on DVD back in the summer of 2003. Had I seen it, it would have been on my list of Top DVDs of 2003. (I may yet add it, despite being after the fact.)

Speaking of the disc, the image is pristine and the sound is great, especially with the score by Phillip Glass.

As for the features, this is one of the better discs for those. These aren’t fluff features; there is some meat to them, including director Stephen Daldry discussing the film and a fairly good background documentary on Virginia Woolf.

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