More often than not, most film bloggers are obsessed with lists. We may have love-hate relationship with them but we cannot help ourselves getting obsessed with them. Like reviews, they are inherent part of this world. We not only make our own lists, we also follow the lists someone else makes for us – 1001 Movies list, Sight and Sound list, All the AFI lists or Academy Award winners list. I am no exception. I keep track of all the lists mentioned above. However there are two which I usually ignore, probably because I do not score well in either of them. First is Best Actor winning films in Oscar where I have seen exactly half of them right now, but the worst is Best Actress winning films where I am at about 36%. Today I got a chance to knock one more title off of this list and nudge a little forward with Stephen Daldry’s The Hours(2002).
The movie essentially tells us 3 different stories in 3 different timelines that are somehow connected to each other. First one is Virginia Woolf herself working on her novel “Mrs Dalloway” in England in 1923. She is fighting her own demons with schizophrenia and has been shipped out of London, into the quite of Richmond to help her clam down and work on her novel by her husband. However the buzz of London is exactly what he yearns for. Second storyline takes us to Los Angeles in 1951 where Laura Brown, a housewife, is reading the novel Virginia Woolf is writing in the first story. She seems to have a decent life – a loving husband, a kid. She is also pregnant with another but that is all just on the outside. Inside there is something that seems to drag her down incessantly. We see her fighting through this depression, trying to find some joy, some meaning in her life and fail every time.
Third storyline follows Clarissa Vaughn in 2001 New York City. She is preparing for a party in honour of her friend and ex-lover Richard who is going to be awarded some literary award later in the day but is dying of AIDS. Clarissa has been taking care of him through his illness and though she is in relationship with her girlfriend Sally for 10 years and Richard has had other relations as well, still thinks she might still be in love with Richard. The Hours follows all the three storylines simultaneously for a day in their lives, cutting across each other; the day all 3 ladies take a decision that will have some serious repercussions on the rest of their lives. All the three stories follow a remarkably similar structure to arrive at their eventual conclusion. All the stories have a visitor, a party of some sort, a kiss and a suicide that directs the course of each storyline.
This film has one of the best casts you can imagine. Just for a while, let us forget about the three central characters. There are a bunch of characters that appear for a very limited time - most of them just for one scene - and it is remarkable that every last one of them leaves their impression on you. I would’ve named some but there are far too many and I don’t want to do disservice to anyone by not including them. This is a heavy material that demands a lot out of the actors but it is hard to imagine any one of them could have done anything better. As for the three leads, any one of us will be hard pressed to find three more versatile, more talented actresses than Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep working in 2001. Technically, Kidman is the lead and other two are in supporting role but personally I don’t think structure of this film supports this claim. There are three stories with almost equal importance to all of them and each one of them is the lead in their own story. I am pretty sure that distinction was only for the awards purposes.
However I did have a clear favourite of three – Nicole Kidman. Moore and Streep are brilliant and as effortless as they are in every other role we have seen them play. But if I didn’t know it is Kidman playing that role, I never would’ve guessed. She completely vanished behind Virginia Woolf’s persona, her smugness and her demons. I imagine playing Streep’s role would be little more challenging since Clarissa Vaughn is a very normal person giving you very less to work on. Kidman had flashier role but subtleties of her performance even in most mundane moments impressed me more. I remember her being hugely touted to win the Oscar for Moulin Rouge!(2001) a year earlier. I don’t remember what her chances were this year because of the incredible line-up but given a choice I think, as much as I like the film and her Satine in it, I will choose her Oscar winning performance in this over Moulin Rouge!.
For a story that simultaneously goes through three different storylines in three different time periods, this isn’t Cloud Atlas(2012). It is an incredibly easy story to follow since, even though all the stories are connected to each other in some way or the other, they do not have any dependence on each other. There are obvious connections between the stories. The novel Woolf is writing in one story, Laura Brown is reading in her story. Mrs Dalloway’s first name in novel is Clarissa and we see Clarissa Vaughn essentially living that day in third. And Richard that Clarissa is giving this party for is Laura’s son. However what really connects all the stories together are the motifs like regret and loss and loneliness that the characters in them feel. As anyone would expect form the film that deals with such topics, The Hours is mostly depressing film. But I would like to think that the way we see all the three stories end, there is some kind of silver lining to each of them.
There are two other aspects of this film that I think deserve to be mentioned here. First, Editing. One of the major reasons why this movie works despite multiple storylines is in the editing. Just take a look at opening sequence where we see all three women waking up. In just about two minutes it sets up the whole movie beautifully. Another aspect is production design. There are not only three stories but three different times and three different locations as well. That would mean a lot of time and energy spent in getting the setting and costumes but we get every single detail just right. The Hours is a heavy movie that deals with heavy subjects. Based on the way various characters react at multiple points, I am also sure it is also possible to interpret in multiple ways. However way you want to look at this film, the three leads and their compelling storylines make it a worthy watch.
Rating(out of 5):