The Hours and Suicide

Stephen Daldry’s The Hours is a 2002 “steam-of-consciousness”, revisionist melodrama that examines the lives of three women in different time periods as they struggle with the oppression of their own eras. Virginia Woolf writes her novel as she suffers from mental illness. She eventually commits suicide (in the opening scene as well) to alleviate her suffering and the suffering of her husband. Laura is a housewife in the 1950’s that contemplates suicide as an escape from her oppressive predicament. She decides against it on the grounds that she is pregnant. Clarissa is a book editor that takes care of her friend Richard, a sufferer of AIDS, that has just received a prestigious prize for his novel. Richard commits suicide before his party, that Clarissa arranged. 

 

The Hours can be considered a revisionist melodrama in that much of the plot is centered on the suffering of homosexuals, as opposed to just women. The most obvious example is the relationship between Clarissa and Richard. Clarissa spends much of her time caring for Richard as he withers away from AIDS, causing the both of them great suffering. The film also takes the “highly moralistic” convention to the next level, as it examines suicide and the different scenarios in which it may or may not be acceptable. The viewer feels sympathy for those who commit suicide out of suffering and a wish to alleviate the suffering of those caring for them, such as Virginia Woolf and Richard. However, the viewer feels less sympathy for a pregnant housewife who contemplates suicide as she is oppressed by society and the institution of the family. In this respect, the film may be considered slightly anti-feminist. 

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I’m Not There as a Revisionist Biopic

Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There is a revisionist biopic documenting the life of singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. Dylan is played by six different characters, each representing a different aspect of his life and social development. The film details important developments in Dylan’s life, from his protest politics in the 1960’s to his conversion to and proselytism of evangelical Christianity.

By creating multiple personas for the main characters, both Citizen Kane and I’m Not There examine the idea that personality and identity are subjective and socially constructed. Each film focuses on the concept of the “unknowability” of the character being examined. The life of Kane is conveyed by word-of-mouth from several people, presenting several different perspectives of Charles Kane, whereas Dylan’s life is portrayed by different characters, each having different personas. Each film makes it difficult for the viewer to determine a single set of characteristics that define the subject being examined, therefore leaving his persona to be constantly reconstructed and redefined.

Inception and Psychology

Christopher Nolan’s Inception is a movie that deals with the implantation of and idea in one’s head through a series of dreams. The intention is that the idea will manifest, and the subject will believe it is his own. Inception is said to have many elements of Film Noir, but because of its production value and incorporation of modern themes, it is labeled a Revisionist, or Postmodern Film Noir. The plot deals with a man named Cobb that uses the tool of inception to access others’ dreams in an attempt to steal secrets. Cobb is a wanted man for cooperate espionage; he was also framed for the murder of his wife. Much of the film also deals with how the blur of fantasy and reality caused his wife to commit suicide.

Inception can be interpreted as dealing with the psychology of dreams, particularly Freudian psychology. It is mentioned several times that a subject of inception can not control his unconscious, characterized by the hostile “projections” in each dream. The concept of an unconscious mind that is unorganized and filled with fantasy is a central tenet to psychoanalysis. Another principle of Freudian psychology is that dreams are the manifestations of one’s deepest desires, comparable to the way Cobb keeps the idea of his wife inside his dreams as a way of coping with her death. The power of fantasy over the human mind is also examined, as Cobb is tempted to stay inside his dreams forever with his wife.

Marriage and Divorce in Intolerable Cruelty

The Coen Brothers’ film Intolerable Cruelty is a revisionist “screwball” comedy that, similarly to The Awful Truth, deals with the institution of marriage. The film details how a woman, Marilyn, marries men that are known philanderers and eventually divorces them in an attempt to seize their assets. She claims she is looking for independence, and money is only a means to her end. She and Miles Massey, a divorce lawyer that represented one of her ex-husbands, eventually get married, and she tricks him into signing a prenuptial agreement that would allow her to seize his assets. The film ends, after a great deal of turbulence, with Marilyn and Miles falling back in love while getting a divorce.

Much like traditional screwball comedies, Intolerable Cruelty is a critique of marriage and divorce, but from a different, cynical and ironic perspective. The film portrays several women that get married and divorce in an attempt to derive money and possessions from the marriage. This is perhaps a critique of the shallowness and materialism of American marriage and divorce. The main character of the film, Miles Massey, is a divorce lawyer that views love, marriage, and divorce as nothing more than events to make a profit from. He seemingly has a revelation that opens his eyes to “love” when he gives a speech at a conference, but it soon fades as he learns that Marilyn was only luring him into her trap.

Radical Politics and “Across the Universe”

Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe is a revisionist musical that incorporates a number of songs by The Beatles into the narrative. The film details the life of the main character, Jude, and the changes he experiences throughout several decades of political turmoil and social experimentation. Jude travels to the United States in search of his G.I. father, and takes residence in an artsy, hippy town. As the years progress, we see Jude working as a freelance artist, while his girlfriend, Lucy, gets involved with radical leftist politics and the mass opposition to the Vietnam War. Because of the differences in lifestyles, Jude and Lucy eventually split,  and Jude is deported. When Jude’s friend Max returns from Vietnam wounded, the three finally reunite in New York.

While some critics argue that Across the Universe unquestioningly sings the praises of the revolutionist ideology of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, it is important to note the critique of the extreme radical politics that the film presents. The scene in which men (most likely representative of the Weather Underground) are seen creating explosives can be interpreted as a criticism of the hypocrisy of using violence to make a statement against state-sponsored violence. Taymor draws parallels between the social and political issues of the 1960’s and 70’s and those of our generation, particularly in the similarities between the Vietnam War and the modern-day war in the Middle East, and the public’s opinion of the government’s actions in each case.

The Red Scare and Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a 1954 science-fiction with moral and political undertones. The film begins with Miles, a patient (actually a doctor) in a mental institution, explaining to the caregivers that the world is being invaded by extraterrestrials. He details his accounts of patients of his own making appointments and suddenly canceling. He also encounters several patients that claim a close relative of theirs has been replaced by an impostor. After some investigation, Miles discovers several bodies that take on the characteristics of already existent people. He discovers plant-like pods that hatch human lookalikes to replace people with emotionless and less-individualistic persons.

Despite what the author of the original novel has to say about the film, the plot can still be interpreted as a product of the Red Scare. Several elements that exemplify the fear of communism can be seen throughout the film, such as the “loss of emotion” or the “loss of individuality”. These elements are the metaphorical embodiment of what the American public feared at the time: the loss of freedom as a result of communist invasion, especially by the Soviet Union. The feeling of imminent threat of communist invasion is conveyed by the stealthiness with which the extraterrestrials invade Earth.

All That Heaven Allows as a Criticism of Social Conformity

All That Heaven Allows is a melodrama from the 50’s about a woman named Cary, who, after the death of her husband, becomes romantically interested in a man who gardens at her house. The gardener, Ron Kirby, lives simply in a small house and enjoys cultivating trees. He is somewhat of a non-conformist, in that he does not consider important the things that much of the culture did at the time. Cary’s interest in Ron evolves into a relationship that is the topic of much gossip throughout her town. Rumors spread that there was an affair between Cary and Ron even before Cary’s husband died, which is certainly not true. Because of the social ostracism Cary faces, she eventually breaks off the relationship. The relationship is rekindled when Ron slips and injures himself – Cary returns to care for him and decides to stay with him.

All That Heaven Allows can be interpreted as a criticism of social conformity in the 1950’s. Ron Kirby embodies the self-actualized man whose principles are different than those prevalent in that time. Ron lives simply and enjoys nature, and has a distinct view of what is important and what isn’t. When the town begins to gossip about the relationship between Ron and Cary, Ron tells Cary that what they say is not important – the feelings that the two share are. The plot of the film is centered on Cary’s decision between conforming to the conventions of the era out of fear of social ostracism and being with somebody that makes her happy. The film criticizes the superficiality of the social norms of the era and asserts that true happiness and self-actualization come from within, rather than from what is dictated by society.