Criticism

The Hours

“Though many thought it impossible, Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, postgay masterpiece The Hours has been transformed into a heartbreaking film of staggering genius…”

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Though many thought it impossible, Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, postgay masterpiece The Hours has been transformed into a heartbreaking film of staggering genius. The novel, a complex, intertwining story of three unrelated women linked by the power of a literary classic, was hardly a natural for cinematic adaptation, but Billy Elliott director Stephen Daldry, working from a script by celebrated playwright David Hare, has crafted an artful examination of dissatisfaction, longing and regret that easily qualifies as a masterpiece in its own right.

As in the book, the film captures a single, defining day in the lives of three women. In 1923 England, Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) battles depression as she begins work on her greatest novel, “Mrs. Dalloway,” the very book in which a discontented housewife (Julianne Moore) finds perverse inspiration in 1951 Los Angeles. Meanwhile, a modern-day version of Woolf’s story unfolds in New York City, as a lesbian book editor (Meryl Streep) prepares a party for her best friend, a poet dying of AIDS (Ed Harris).

As with Woolf’s heroine, all three women share the feeling they’ve been living their lives for someone else. In truly phenomenal performances, Moore, Streep, and, notably, Kidman disappear completely into their characters, each of whom struggles with repressed sexual desires and unexpressed disappointment. Their misery is emphasized by an impeccable Philip Glass score – at once impossibly fragile and cataclysmically thunderous – that arguably functions as a character of its own.

Under Daldry’s expert direction, the three parallel stories intermingle with a mesmerizing fluidity before converging in a moment of overwhelming insight. He clearly takes great delight in slowly revealing the manner in which the characters and their situations mirror one another and ultimately come together. When the pieces of the puzzle are finally in place, the picture that emerges is a heartwrenching and lyrical portrait of love as a painful and lonely condition.

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