I have never read anything by Virginia Woolf.
That’s not really a barrier to enjoying The Hours, though it does leave me wondering if I’d enjoy it any more if I were more familiar with Woolf’s work. Fortunately for me, the school year’s started and Virginia Woolf is actually included in the Brit Lit curriculum that I’m working with, so I’ll get to do that!
The Hours tells three parallel stories about one day in the lives of Virginia Woolf, ’50s housewife Laura Brown, and New York literary editor Clarissa Vaughan. All three women have a connection to Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway. In the film, Virginia is in the process of writing it while Laura is reading it, and Clarissa is preparing a party (like the eponymous Mrs. Dalloway of the novel) for her friend and former lover, Richard, who has won a lifetime achievement award for his poetry.
In terms of craft, I have no complaints about this film. It’s beautifully made, and all of the performances are truly fantastic.
Each individual plot looks at the dynamics between each respective society and the expectations placed on a woman in that society. Virginia’s England labels her as mentally ill (she likely was, but it’s possible that Woolf’s illness was exacerbated by the shoddy psychiatry that was practiced in her lifetime) though she’s depicted as being more simply ill-suited to the expectations of a woman of her social status. She has a poor grasp on the logistics of running her house, and her servants don’t respect her because of this. In the ’50s, Laura is a moderately successful housewife who has a husband, Dan, who loves her and seems to be unconcerned with any lack of aptitude she has for the role (Laura is shown to be inept at baking cakes). Despite Dan’s satisfaction, Laura is unhappy with her life and feels constrained by her role as a housewife. Her frustration comes from the fact that Dan doesn’t actually care about her capabilities; he’s just happy with the idea of her staying home and caring for their son. As for Clarissa, she’s wrapped up in preparations for the party, trying to keep herself from thinking about her dissatisfaction with the mundanity of her life.
I was pleasantly surprised by the ending when the connection between Laura and Clarissa’s stories was revealed (it’s a little deeper than just a tenuous connection to Woolf’s novel), and though the whole film definitely falls squarely in the downer category, it was worth a watch. I’d probably need to watch it again to offer any deeper thoughts, but I can say that I thought it was good. Definitely check it out if you’d like to watch something dealing somewhat deeply with issues surrounding roles and expectations in daily life and the contrast between that and what we often hope for in its place.