“The public can’t stomach bold prose from a woman”
The dazzling appeal of Björn L. Runge’s drama The Wife (2017) rests in Glenn Close’s reflections on her character, which she addressed in an interview with Film4. As she states, the motivation behind the protagonist’s choices challenged her own understanding of her actions. It is this complexity of both the psyches portrayed on-screen, and the winding trails of the characters’ lives that stays with the audience long after the film has ended.
Based on Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel of the same name, the story follows Joe (Jonathan Pryce) and his dutiful wife Joan (Glenn Close) as they head to Stockholm to formally receive the Nobel Prize for Literature that has been awarded to him. They are joined on their trip by their adult son David (Max Irons), whose probing questions and blinding admiration for his father’s talent lead to uncomfortable epiphanies. Joan’s forebearing calm is further challenged by Nathanial (Christian Slater), a journalist desperate to get the permission he needs to write a biography of Joe’s life.
The Swedish-British-American co-production submerges the audience in a dark and moody aura, one made heavier by the constant thrum of tension between the seemingly harmonious couple. The strong characters and splendid acting crumble the walls of the exterior world, allowing us to glimpse into the little alcove of their joint lives. Its intricacies are played like an instrument within the concert hall of their own making. But through the adagios and crescendos of the orchestra of marriage come the brief notes of unsettling clarity, making the whole spectacle appear jarring.
We see how easy it is to mistake confinement for fidelity. The tragedy of such forced illusions is heightened by the fact that Joan was born in unfavourable times and, consequently, had to watch her future be shaped by circumstances beyond her control. From this misery, hope is born. Its delightful spirit is augmented by David, whose dedication to the craft transcends gender roles and parental admiration. In taking this leap, the film is a vivaciously feminist piece, yanking egos back to the start line and forcing them to renew the race against sex-based discrimination.
The grey toned setting and the heft of the emotional baggage in the movie both add to the unexpected twists in the story. These qualities administer a stirring dose of something uniquely thriller-esque to this inconspicuous drama. And with the final scenes reminding us of our own battles with both disillusionment and shifting aspirations, The Wife appears achingly human to tender eyes.
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