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Jewish World Review Jan. 17, 2003 / 14 Shevats, 5763

Julia Gorin

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"The Hours": I am woman. Hear me bore. | Here I've spent the past five years thinking I was happily married. Thank god my friend convinced me to see the critically-acclaimed, Paramount-Miramax release "The Hours," nominated for seven Golden Globes and starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore. Because it lifted the veil from my eyes to reveal that I'm actually a lesbian who must leave her husband and children immediately, before their love drives me to overdose on pills or drown myself in a river.

Based on author Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer prize-winning 1998 novel, "The Hours" moves back and forth among three different time periods and three different women. Its message is that anything, anything is better than living a societally-imposed heterosexual life, in a house, in the suburbs--even if it means living alone as a librarian the way Moore's Laura Brown, who is very pregnant with her second child, chooses to do after rethinking an overdose for herself and the baby, opting instead to abandon the family after giving birth.

Or else it is not life that one is living, but a lie. For the dream of idyllic suburban family life can belong only to man, jailer of unsuspecting woman. At least Moore gets to kiss her seemingly perfect but actually sterile and momentarily willing next-door neighbor Kitty on the mouth.

Like Mrs. Brown's pathetic husband, Virginia Woolf's (Nicole Kidman) pathetic husband has sequestered her to the peace of the countryside after London life exacerbated her madness. But, as Woolf convinces her husband, the "death" of living in the suburbs is more maddening than the jolt of city life that she so craves, for it is only in the latter setting that one can thrive. Before returning to the city, Kidman gets to kiss Miranda Richardson, who plays her sister, passionately on the mouth.

With all the accolades, the fanfare surrounding "The Hours" hearkens back to the year 2000, when "American Beauty" swept the Globes and Oscars. A period version of the latter, "The Hours" revisits the same themes. Interestingly, whenever heterosexual-slash-suburban misery is featured, The West Wing's Allison Janney is there: catatonic as a military man's wife in "Beauty" but well-adjusted as a literary woman's wife here.

Janney plays the long-time companion of Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep), who seems to be living the most honestly of the three heroines: in a 10-year relationship with her lesbian partner and, for a shorter time, with a sperm that, together with single then double motherhood, has produced the perfect child, played by Claire Danes--whom we can infer from manner and dress to be a budding lesbian herself. Danes portrays a remarkably well-adjusted daughter who goes to college, helps her mother, is kind to strangers and has no curiosity about the sperm that spawned her.

The once wrongly married Laura Brown envies the rightly never-married Clarissa Vaughan, because she conceived a child she actually wanted. Little does Mrs. Brown know that Vaughan has been pining away for that which every woman, lesbian or not, secretly desires--a gay man. In this case, the gay man is Mrs. Brown's estranged son, played by Ed Harris, who is dying of AIDS and tosses himself from the window. (His circumstances are all the more tragic, since his lifestyle was picture perfect: gay and living in the city.) As Kidman's closing narration tells us to look life in the face, Streep gets over her pining for the dead gay man she can't have, and grabs Janney's face, kissing it passionately on the mouth.

Yes, look life in the face, advises "The Hours," whether that means doing so as a lesbian, as a loner or as a suicide (and nothing in between). Yet the film, an elaborate setup to get us from one Saphic kiss to the next, is so transparent in its perverse propagandizing that it can't be accused of being insidious. Indeed, given the current literary and cinematic climate, it could easily be mistaken for parody.

One's hope for Mr. Cunningham's next literary triumph, as for director Stephen Daldry's and screenwriter David Hare's cinematic one, is that it might find even greater social resonance, perhaps by exploring more courageous themes such as pedophilia, necrophilia, incestuous pedophilia, and incestuous necrophilia.

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JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2002, Julia Gorin