Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Hours, Michael Cunningham (1998)

Film: Paramount Pictures (US)/Miramax Films (Worldwide), directed by Stephen Daldry (2002)

The Hours, which won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, centers around the lives of three women on a single day. The story traces each of the character's individuals struggles which are interwoven as one is writing, one is reading, and one is living through horrors. The Hours  explores despair and the desire to still live as we all must live through every hour of our lives.The three women are as follows:
  • Virginia Woolf, 1923: as she is writing her novel, Mrs. Dalloway
  • Laura Brown, 1949: as she is struggling with the everyday tasks of being a housewife in post-World War II California
  • Clarissa Vaughan, end of the twentieth century: as she seems to be living through Mrs. Dalloway's life. In fact, her friend Richard has nicknamed her Mrs. Dalloway. When readers first meet Clarissa she is preparing to buy flowers. ("Mrs. Dalloway said that she would buy the flowers herself")
The Hours was a really beautiful, wonderfully constructed, emotional, touching book, and I highly recommend it. Cunningham is inventive and insightful through his use of the historical record concerning Woolf's life outside of London during the 1920s to create what Woolf's inner life might have been like.  Her struggles, however, are illustrated in a way that her story is still more about living than dying. In addition, the audience is not compelled to pity Woolf and her troubles. Instead, Cunningham makes the audience long to see who she truly was, as he expertly inserts segments of Woolf's writing into his modern phrases.  

Equally impressive to Woolf's well-crafted character is Cunningham's ability to fully create the lives of Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughan who are each connected to Woolf and to each other. Both Brown and Vaughan have struggles of their own, and yet both characters put others before themselves. Brown continues her role as a loving housewife and mother, despite her unhappiness. She dotes on her son Richie and she ensures her husband's happiness by standing by his side. Vaughan glides through her life as a lesbian in New York City as she concerns herself with trivial tasks such as throwing the perfect party to honor her friend Richard who has just won a major literary prize.

 Both Brown and Vaughan hide their sorrow and pain and they trudge through life as if nothing has happened to make them feel otherwise. And on the surface, nothing happens. Brown bakes a cake for her husband's birthday, talks with a neighbor and reads a book. (Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway). Vaughan buys flowers for her friend Richard's party, prepares the party and receives a visit from an old friend. No important striking action takes place, besides an incident between Richard and Clarissa (near the end). Beneath the surface, however, much action does take place. Both Brown and Vaughan struggle as they long to remain hidden, while they long to come out of hiding. Woolf also struggles tremendously as she longs to return to the bustling, city streets of London, receives a visit from her sister Vanessa, dodges her husband's remarks towards her health and embarks on a new writing journey as she puts Mrs. Dalloway's story on paper.  Much is actually felt, longed for, loved, lost and feared.

 Brown reads Woolf's writing and imagines what death would be like, but of course, she never brings an end to her life, despite the comfort that she finds in knowing that death is possible. Vaughan lives a life similar to Woolf's character Mrs. Dalloway. Vaughan cares for her gay friend and one-time lover, Richard who is on the verge of dying. She concerns herself with his well-being, instead of her own. She is shocked to receive a visit from Richard's former lover Louis. Clarissa also interacts with her daughter Julia, Julia's strange friend Mary and her current lover Sally. 

In other words, The Hours does not contain much action, but each character has their own set of complexities and complex relationships. Also, all three stories are connected, despite their different time periods, locations, family members, friends and situations. This connection is not fully revealed, however, until the end. Throughout the novel, Cunningham makes his readers hunger for more knowledge. Cunningham makes his readers search for the connection between the three stories. Cunningham uses his expertise in story telling by combining the three stories into a single, cohesive, beautifully constructed metaphor for life's repetitiousness. Life repeats. Pain can be found in each and every lifetime, despite what the times may suggest. Pain unites us all in some way or another. Pain breaks us all down in some way or another, and yet, we must keep living through each hour of our lives because after this hour comes another hour. 

"The time to live is hide is over. The time to to regret is gone. The time to live is now."

*I have not actually seen this movie yet, so I cannot compare it to the novel. However, I have seen portions of this movie and I think I can say that both the novel and the film are excellent in their own ways. 

No comments:

Post a Comment