I belatedly went to see The Hours, the Virginia Woolf biopic that figures to dominate Oscar night with its trifecta of female stars. The Hours is based on Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title, itself an homage to Woolf and her 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway. The film is thus an adaptation of a novel’s meditation on another novel’s rumination on suicide. Sound complicated? This is one movie you’d love to hear being pitched to the studio execs.
With its daunting leaps in time and place, Cunningham’s novel presents a formidable challenge for a filmmaker, but David Hare’s screenplay is audaciously faithful, giving us far-flung characters joined by thematic and circumstantial threads. Woolf’s novel took a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an English matron hosting a party amid an inner turmoil of unhappiness, and tied it to the simultaneous suicide of another character, the poet Septimus Smith, whom Mrs. Dalloway does not know, but who suffers a similar deep disaffection. These are characters united not by acquaintance, but by psychological affinity and spiritual predicament. The movie, like Cunningham’s novel, takes this conceit and runs with it, intercutting a day in the life of Woolf (Nicole Kidman) during the writing of Mrs. Dalloway with pivotal days in the much later lives of two of her readers: Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), a housewife in 1950s Southern California, and Clarissa...
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About the Author
Rand Richards Cooper, one of Commonweal's film critics, is the author of two works of fiction, The Last To Go and Big as Life.