"If the choice is between Richmond and death, I choose death."


An Illusion review by Joan Ellis

              “Everything good for me is gone except the certainty of your goodness.”  So Virginia Woolf opens “The Hours” by writing to her husband Leonard just before putting a rock in her pocket and wading into the river.  The movie gives us three stories – Woolf (Nicole Kidman) in 1923, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) in 1951, and Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) in 2001.  The women are connected by their relation to Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway.

                Mrs. Dalloway consumes Woolf’s thoughts.  “Leonard, I believe I may have the first sentence.”  The content of that sentence, as well as the book itself will echo in the two stories to come.  When she writes, “A woman’s whole life is a single day, and in that day, a whole life,” she has not only the theme of her book but the tie to Laura and Clarissa.  Director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare have fashioned this complex plot into a logical whole that reveals subtle connections as it unfolds.  

                In 1951 Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) is baking a cake for her husband Dan (John C. Reilly) with the help of her young son, a serious little guy trying to make sense of his mother’s odd detachment.  Her thoughts of suicide perfectly reflect Virginia Woolf’s remark to Leonard, “The suffocating anesthetic of the suburbs; If the choice is between Richmond and death, I choose death.”

 Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) is a successful editor in contemporary Manhattan.  It is 2001, and she is also the daily emotional support system for Richard (Ed Harris), a poet and dear friend who has AIDS.  She is trying to lure the reluctant writer to a party she is giving to celebrate his receiving a top poetry prize.  Clarissa has given seven years of time, energy, and affection in return for moods, blackouts, and tantrums.  Raging at the disease that will cut his life short, Richard lashes out at the person who has stood by. 

                Each of the three women has failed in an area of life that was important to her, and each has been given just a third of the movie to make us understand her desperation.  If the successive stories begin to sink under the melodrama of plot and score, watching these actors at work is enough.  I do think Nicole Kidman, fake nose aside, is too excessively young and lovely, almost demure in this movie, to evoke the irascible, abrasive Virginia Woolf.

 Julianne Moore is excellent as the housewife whose inner torture passes right by her sweet, clueless husband in yet another parody of the ‘50s.  Meryl Streep captures beautifully the flavor of the time assigned her with subtlety and frustration.  She is our contemporary – rushing to keep up with both work and moral obligations; afraid she’s going to lose the struggle.  This is a movie about suicide as a last option in life, about who will choose it and who will turn away – and why.  Dark stuff, beautifully made.              


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