The Hours (film)

The Hours, released in the U.S. in 2002, is a drama based on Michael Cunningham’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title. The film stars Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep and was directed by Stephen Daldry. The plot follows three women, all from different time periods, whose lives are interconnected by the novel Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia Woolf (Kidman) struggles with her mental illness in 1920s England as she writes Mrs. Dalloway; Laura Brown (Moore), a pregnant housewife with a young son in 1950s California, reads Mrs. Dalloway as she contends with an unhappy marriage; and Clarissa Vaughan (Streep) is a New Yorker in 2001 caring for her AIDS-stricken friend Richard, who all too appropriately calls her Mrs. Dalloway after the novel’s titular character.

Each of The Hours‘ three characters depicts lesbianism in a different way, all of them involving a kissing scene. Virginia kisses her sister in a clear and desperate attempt for connection; Laura kisses Kitty, a neighbor, to comfort her in the face of surgery; and Clarissa is an out lesbian living with her partner Sally, whom she kisses after Richard’s suicide. All the scenes are set in opposition to the oppressive relationship each woman has with the man in her life, and they are strongly linked to Clarissa and Sally’s relationship in the Mrs. Dalloway novel.

On the surface, the lesbianism portrayed in The Hours seems to be a liberating alternative to the confinement of the characters’ lives. Each of these women is stretched to the breaking point–some of them beyond it–and each suffers a degree of depression along with other possible disorders. It is starkly apparent that the women have built facades of “normal” life for the benefit of the men in their lives–even Clarissa states that nothing matters except Richard, including her partner Sally. It would seem, then, that the moments where each woman finds connection with another woman are the moments where they don’t have to pretend for the sake of others.

Unfortunately, what could be a positive portrayal of LGBTQ relationships and love is hampered by the film’s inescapable link with mental illness. Each character’s kiss with another woman is connected to their freedom, and that freedom is–at least according to society–unhealthy. Virginia kisses her sister and shortly after commits suicide; Laura kisses Kitty and , after an attempted suicide, abandons her husband and two children; Clarissa kisses Sally after Richard’s death. The film seems to suggest that women and especially lesbians who seek agency and autonomy can expect to find only tragedy and ostracism. Step outside the heteronormative structure and face your doom.

The Hours lends itself very well to social commentary about the oppression of women, and for that I praise it. However, I balk at the portrayal of lesbians as mentally ill and depressed women. The film, perhaps inadvertently, seems to be saying “Look how oppressed and desperate these women are! Look how they have to kiss other women just to feel a connection!”–as if a woman’s desire for another woman can only be a symptom of a truly unhappy life. Even Clarissa, the lesbian character(!), shows no feeling toward Sally until her life of dependence on Richard has fallen apart. 

This film should not have made comments on society at the expense of its LGBTQ audience. Hurtful stereotypes still have negative effects even during kiss scenes.

Rating:

Thumbs up for casting, characters, and story; Thumbs down for lesbianism = depression

 

~Katy and Stacy

 

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~ by Stacy on November 1, 2012.

 
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