For the majority of movie plots, it takes days or even years to present a simple event, idea, or theme. For the 2002’s indie film “The Hours,” directed by Stephen Daldry, however, touching upon universal themes such as: sanity, self-identity, and sexuality, is condensed into less than twelve hours. Sounds a little bit like science fiction.
Surprisingly enough, “The Hours” doesn’t fall under the category of the latest super-hero flicks but is a biopic of one of the most prominent female figures in the English literature – Virginia Woolf. Based on the 1999’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel with the same name by Michael Cunningham and brought to life by a stellar cast, this film does nothing short of justifying its eight Oscar nominations, including nods for Best Director and Best Picture.
The plot evolves around the life entanglements of three women living in different parts of the world during different time periods. In 1920’s suburban London, Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) is on the verge of a mental breakdown while working on her novel “Mrs. Dalloway.” Feeling trapped in the aristocratic suburbia and being unsure of her own sexual orientation, Woolf sees suicide as the only way out. In 1950’s Los Angeles, a seemingly happy homemaker and young mother Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) deep down feels disgusted with her monotonous lifestyle and her marriage to the less-than-attractive yet rich husband Dan (John Reilly “The Aviator”). Her only distraction, in-between the washing, the cooking, and preparing for her little son Richie’s birthday, is perusing Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway.”
Just like her favorite author, Brown considers taking her own life, despite the fact that she is pregnant with her second child. Whereas the destinies of these two women seem to run parallel to one another, they are brought together by a third one – openly homosexual Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep), who lives in 2000’s New York and is adamantly organizing a party in honor of the AIDS-stricken gay poet Richard (Ed Harris, “Pollock”). Clarissa feels close to him for they used to have a romantic relationship before they both came out of the closet. Even though she was married and has a daughter in college, Julia (Claire Danes “Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet”), Clarissa is open about her sexual preference for women.
All the events in the lives of Virginia, Laura, and Clarissa, which all take place within the scope of one day, are somewhat controlled by the plot of “Mrs. Dalloway.” The main heroine of the novel, an unhappily married London socialite Clarissa Dalloway, is about to host a party for a friend of hers, who is a poet. She also thinks about committing suicide, but changes her mind (due to Woolf’s whimsy of pen) at the last moment.
Instead, a stranger named Septimus Warren Smith, of whom Mrs. Dalloway has hardly heard, kills himself by jumping off a window.
Likewise, Laura Brown (who turns out to be the mother of the poet Richard) decides to run away after the birth of her second child in order to stay sane. She considers it a better option that committing a suicide. Laura’s grown up AIDS-stricken son takes on Septimus’ fate; unable to live with the disease any more and feeling overwhelmed by the fuss over the party, he jumps off the window in front of Clarissa Vaughan. The subliminal creator of these two characters, Virginia Woolf, is actually a hybrid of them: her drowning shown at the very beginning of the film is the symbolical trigger and, maybe, the inevitable by-product of the actions of Laura, Clarissa, and Richard.
The constant scene switch of the three-time periods encompassed in the feature presentation makes the historical/psychological/thematic connection stronger.
Still, there is a concealed reminder that all these years are squeezed into a single day.
Despite her natural air of stiffness and coldness, Nicole Kidman is quite believable in her portrayal of Virginia Woolf. Her Australian accent and rather stage-like acting contribute to the authenticity of the 1920’s character. So, Kidman definitely deserves the Academy Award she won in “The Hours” (Best Actress in a Leading Role). Julianne Moore (“Boogie Nights,” “Hannibal”) has much bleaker and hardly noticeable presence in the film, compared to that of Kidman. Mostly known for her role as Agent Clarice Starling in “Hannibal,” Moore seems a little bit out-of-place as a domestic woman. Yet, she received an Academy Award nod for Best Supporting Actress.
Two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep (“Sophie’s Choice, “Kramer vs. Kramer”) has the most difficult role to play of all her female co-stars. However, her portrayal of a homosexual character is very realistic and even has a humorous edge. Ed Harris’ portrayal of a gay man also holds verisimilitude but is a little bit more serious than Streep’s. Reilly and Claire Danes, on the other hand, bring air of casualness to the otherwise complex plot of the movie. Their roles as a providing husband and a college student are the most down-to-earth ones.
At first glance, it seems impossible to take the complexities of three lives stretched across the century and condense them into the hours of a single day. Yet, with some creativity, cinematic mastery, and “A” rate acting, “the hours” quickly turn into years.