View Full Version : The Hours

02-24-2003, 06:03 PM
The Hours
A film by Stephen Daldry

Why Is Everything Wrong?

The day begins with the sound of an alarm. I get up, shower and get dressed. What day is it? What am I doing today? Do I have somewhere to go? Someone to see? It is the same as the day before and will be the same again tomorrow and likely the day after that. However uncertain, I am not alone on this uncharted journey. Billions of people face the hours between wake and sleep every day and if they’re lucky enough, they’ll do it again several times before they die. If all this sounds dramatic, it’s because it is. It is the inexplicable nature of our existence that Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours” explores so delicately and portrays so movingly. Daldry’s canvas comprises three different women on three different days in three different eras and they are all tied together by a literary classic, Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway”.

Seamlessly, their lives flow in and out of each others, breaking the barriers of space and time thanks to Peter Boyle’s editing, which is both astute and precise. The opening sequence jumps back and forth between each era as each of our heroines wakes up to the new day. They wash their faces, think of what they’re going to do with their days and make breakfast arrangements. Some rituals are timeless. To demonstrate this, Boyle cuts from flowers being arranged, accentuating a prim and proper entrance way in 1923 England to flowers being snuck in as an early morning surprise from a husband to his wife in 1951 Los Angeles to another of our heroine’s declaring that she will be buying the flowers herself in 2001 New York City. All the while, shots further fused together by a piano and string driven score by Philip Glass that has to be, by definition, transcendent to get its point across. Visual and audio merge perfectly to create a new media symphony.

And of course there is one other key thing that ties each era together - the fallen angels that are our heroines. Each is mature. Each is beautiful. Each is unhappy. And thus begins the journey for each of these women to reclaim the lives that are their own and find meaning in those existences in hopes of one day achieving fulfillment and overcoming the looming depression that holds their lives as prisoner.

This Day of All Days

The day begins with a trip to the florist. Clarissa Vaughn is having a party tonight and every detail must be perfect. Therefore the flowers will be hand chosen; the food, prepared with her own hands. And when the evening turns into night and the stragglers are putting on their coats, an overwhelming sensation will surge through her body. She will have the satisfaction of having done everything herself, giving her life purpose. She is a success and her life is anything but trivial. Only this is not reality. On this day of all days, Clarissa’s life will fall apart.

There is a moment in “The Hours” where Clarissa (Meryl Streep) lies back on her bed, fresh from a complete emotional collapse that had her crouched over crying on the floor of her kitchen with a ghost from her past. She is joined by her young, student daughter (Claire Danes) and the two are discussing life. During a pause in the conversation, the ticking of a nearby clock can be heard, slowly moving the scene forward, second by second. In that moment, life and the passing of time are inseparable. Although it may seem like the tiniest of details, that ticking clock taunts Clarissa by showing her the importance of time and how necessary it is to seize it while letting it slip past her just the same. Vaughn has been living a great deal of her life on hold, longing to get back to a time when she was once happy instead of trying to find a new happiness in each day. Streep is restrained yet highly emotional as Vaughn in order to properly convey how close to the edge she truly is. Streep’s fragility can be seen in the glassiness of her eyes, the shaking of her hands and the jittery nature of her speech. She has been holding on to so much hurt that David Hare’s subtle script eludes to just enough to allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions without relying on some catastrophic event from Vaughn’s past to explain her current sadness.

It’s What You Can Bare

The day begins with a dozen rose surprises at breakfast. From the outside, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) is the image of perfection. She has a beautiful suburban home with a responsible husband, beautiful four year old boy and another child expected within the course of the next five months or so. She is living the American dream of 1951. Like a dutiful wife, she proceeds to bake her husband a birthday cake after he leaves for work. The cake caves and consequently so does her mood. Moore is composed as Brown despite the fact that she looks as though she may cry at any moment. She doesn’t want her son to see how difficult even the most menial of tasks are on her brittle soul. She doesn’t want her son to see how close she is to giving up entirely.

This dream, this American dream, was not a dream of her own design. She played along though, not knowing what else to do. Her husband, Dan (John C. Reilly) scooped her up after his return from World War II to make her his wife. At his birthday dinner party, joined only by his wife and child, he tells the story of how he held on to the image of a young Laura, shy and lonely, while he was away, keeping him focused and filling his heart with hope upon his return. He recounts his story to their young son with fondness and what he believes to be pure love. It is the great romantic story of his life. Only Laura protests that he not tell the story and as she holds back her tears, you know that this love is one-sided, that is the great trap of her life. Moore’s eyes always say so much without having to speak.

It Is Possible To Die

The day begins with inspiration. “Mrs. Dalloway decided she would buy the flowers herself.” It is the first sentence of a novel that would further solidify Virginia Woolf (played here by Nicole Kidman) as a standout in the literary world. It is also a novel that would go on to change the lives of the characters in this film after being recontextualized into this fictitious existence. She transcribes the words with urgency and excitement. This inspiration is sudden and clearly it is not certain how long the flow will last. Along with the inspiration, Woolf is not even certain how much longer she will last. She grapples every day with her own sanity without actually knowing how to maintain it. Early on in the film, she comes face to face with mortality as she looks a dead bird in the face. Her eyes are transfixed as she lies still by the bird on the ground. In this moment, Woolf is reminded of how unexpected each day can be.

Her day is no less momentous than Laura Brown’s or Clarissa Vaughn’s. In a life that feels as though it is constantly spiralling out of control, Woolf reaches a point where she must either regain that control or let go altogether. Nicole Kidman is unrecognizable as this troubled genius that was far ahead of her own time. However hidden underneath prosthetics, Kidman’s talent that has been growing more and more compelling and captivating in the last years shines right through. This is best exemplified when Woolf must show her husband (Stephen Dillane), whose intentions to protect her from herself and her own disillusionment are nothing but good, that her life is her own and that any decisions to be made regarding her own life must involve her input, otherwise why would she fight to live at all. Kidman is commanding and stern as she fights for her life, despite the struggle for strength that is clouding her mind and showing through her eyes. When she is done making her case, she is out of breath and so are we.

You Cannot Find Peace
By Avoiding Life

All this drama and all this pain are all tied together by “Mrs. Dalloway”. Virginia Woolf is tortured writing the all too familiar content of the novel; Laura Brown is tortured as she identifies with the heroine’s plight of hopelessness; and Clarissa Vaugn is tortured living in the shadow of a character’s existence she feels might one day repeat itself. It is a stream of consciousness novel that recounts the story of a British socialite who is throwing a party to mask the fact that she is slowly falling apart. Oddly enough, it too all takes place in one day. And by the end, someone dies. Woolf’s husband Leonard asks his wife why must a character die. To which she replies that someone must die so that the remaining character’s can appreciate life. For anyone who can identify with this film, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Grade: A

02-24-2003, 09:02 PM
I have never read a summary of a movie that captures a film so completely. This post is an amazing piece of work in itself. Perhaps it should win a Pultizer.

02-24-2003, 09:54 PM
I'm assuming you've seen the movie. Thank you so much for your words of praise. I'm new at this and the encouragement is much more helpful than you could ever possibly imagine. Thanks for taking the time.