The Women’s Hours

“A woman’s life in a single day – just one day – and in that day, her whole life.”

The Hours is about just one day. It is about the significance of a single day, and how that day contains within itself, the ability to change, mould and alter one’s life. The Hours is a movie based on a 1998 novel written by Michael Cunningham. It won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the 1999 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and was later made into an Oscar winning 2002 movie of the same name starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore.

I have not read the novel, but I just finished watching the movie for the third time in a row. Basically, it has me hooked. The acting and direction are all superb and the movie has been justly awarded.

The movie is about a novel that connects women across three generations. The first woman is the author of the novel, Virginia Woolf. She is suffering from a mental illness and a confinement that she wants to break free from. The second woman is Mrs. Brown, the wife of a World War II veteran, who is reading the novel. While the third woman is Clarissa Vaughn, a lesbian book editor, who is a very literal modern-day version of Woolf’s character in the novel.

The movie primarily deals with depression. It connects three different women who are fighting depression in their own forms. Virginia, the author, considers it an insult to her intelligence to listen to doctors who confine her within four walls. She wants to break free from her imprisonment, because she thinks she alone knows what is best for her and for that purpose she pretends to be all well, showing that she has recovered from her mental illness. I can somehow relate to her situation and what she goes through. Any human would find it an insult to their freewill to be made to do something against their wishes, no matter how much it is in their own benefit.

Mrs. Brown lives what would appear to many as the perfect life, as is confirmed by her friend Kitty. However, Laura Brown does not seem to agree. She has a loving husband, a beautiful home and a little child, while she is pregnant with the second one. All this does not seem to interest her much and she faces conflicting emotions. She would rather stay in bed and read the book Mrs. Dalloway, on her husband’s birthday, than cook breakfast. While he has brought her flowers. Laura intends to make plans for her husband’s birthday but she knows he would gladly accept what ever she comes up with. She realizes her husband’s happiness “depends only on the fact of her, here in the house, living her life, thinking of him”.

Clarissa Vaughn buys flowers for her friend Richard, who has won a very prestigious award for poetry and is dying of AIDS. On her way to his apartment, she reflects on that particular day and on a summer from her past when she vacationed with two of her closest friends Richard and Louis. Upon returning to her apartment, Clarissa is filled with a sense of emptiness. She feels trivial, but still decides to go ahead and arrange the party for her friend and maintain her confident demeanor. Again, her similarity with Mrs. Dalloway becomes very apparent. Mrs. Dalloway is also a hostess, who likes to entertain people to escape from her own sadness and her sense of emptiness. While she has done it many times, Mrs. Dalloway does not feel particularly confident throwing another party, but it is a reality that she can not accept or confirm to.

Virginia initially plans to kill her character Mrs. Dalloway, intending her to commit suicide over something very trivial. However, then she plans not to go ahead with this idea of hers. Another character commits suicide in her novel because Clarissa Dalloway represents, to Virginia, an uncaring, even foolish thing.

The movie deals with a woman’s comfort level with her own sexuality and mental illness, both of which have known to haunt women. It shows how openly women have come to accept their sexuality to themselves and then to the whole world, over the years. It would have been difficult for Virginia or Laura to bring their sexual attractions out in their lifetimes, for then it would have been considered a mental illness and socially unacceptable. While for Clarissa, it is not difficult to accept her sexuality and to live with a woman partner. The issue of suicide travels side by side in the story line. The movie describes a human being’s choice to end their own life and the reasons for which such an act could be done. It also shows their courage to accept fate, a quality which only a few possess and employ.

The story travels like thoughts in one’s mind, moving from one thing to another, but never too jumbled up to understand. It connects three unrelated women over matters that relate one woman to another anywhere on the globe. Moreover, it makes one realize the importance of even the most ordinary days in one’s life and how they can alter their destiny forever. It is in the span of just a single day that three different women experience life altering phenomenon and make decisions that are going to affect their future course of life.

Why I chose to write on The Hours is simple. It is a movie about women. It is a movie about things I have experienced as a woman and I can relate to it on many occasions. It shows women fighting depression and learning to accept their conditions in life. It shows those women who want to break free and escape from something that is automatically perceived to be in their own benefit. It shows women who dare to break free from a monotony, who have their own definition of what happiness is and who have the courage to stop brooding over the past, accept the present and anticipate for the future. But then again, this is only how the movie moved me, and merely my own perception of what message it tries to give.

Kulsoom Khawaja

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