This movie was a little reluctantly recommended to us at a writing group meeting, maybe a year ago. It’s been on my to-watch list, and during a recent temporary subscription to Starz, I noticed it was on there and took advantage of an evening by myself. (What?!? Oh, the few up-sides of pandemic life.) At least I think it was a reluctant recommend. If I remember correctly, the viewer had their reservations about how it dealt with the writing life.
Which is usually my central question when I watch a move that features a writer: how does it deal with the writing life? And this one is a mixed bag. While the movie is more about ambition and marriage, it uses a Nobel Prize-winning writer and his wife to do it. There were some things about it that were really interesting, like the glimpse into what it must be like to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, from the phone call to the ceremony to the schmoozing and interacting with the public, press, and all those people! Even the rock star status, which is something I have never thought about. What might be some negatives to winning this most coveted of prizes? What might go into getting it? Then again, though it was imperative that the writer win this prize in order to make the plot work, it is yet another movie (or book or TV show) about a writer who has succeeded against the odds and has had a very successful career. In other words, while interesting and perhaps inspiring, we’re still not seeing what the life of a normal writer is like. I mean, all this guy had to do was find the right partner and great writing spouted out and landed with all the right publishers and his writing changed the world. It does happen, but for once I’d like to see a more broadly experienced story about the writing life.
The truth is, as started to say above, this movie is much more about relationships and human nature than it is about the writing life, even though it features the writing life more prominently than almost any movie I’ve seen. It’s about aging. It’s about marriage. It’s about ambition. It’s about talent. It’s about dominance and submissiveness. A little bit, it’s about parenting or being parented. What would you do for success? I can’t say too much about this movie, because its gimmick is largely in the unraveling of the plot which, at times, is surprising. Let’s just say that it explores a darker side of humanity, despite the fact that the-worst-of-these keeps trying to reassure us that they have done nothing wrong. The real beauty in this movie is in the shades of gray, the shades of emotion, the shades of morality, which couldn’t have happened without the stellar acting. You’re almost lulled into discovering what has really happened and who these people really are. You almost lose your sense of right and wrong before you finally come to yourself, the frog already boiling in the pot. Again, I can’t discuss the ending for fear of ruining the movie for you. Don’t expect it to be super exciting, but it is superbly acted and pretty darn thoughtful. (There is one subplot that I thought was quite unnecessary and also I thought in one respect the acting of a particular emotion was too underdone. (Again, can’t say how.) There is also a quite uncomfortable sex scene right at the beginning, though funnily enough—as much as this movie is about sex, there’s not one scrap of nudity. I always had faith in the viewers that we could understand sex in a movie without having our noses rubbed in it.)
I have also heard that it is better the second time around, when you can watch the actors while you already know their secrets. I could totally see that being the case.
Not my favorite movie by a long shot, but I could really see using this to teach acting or story-telling, discuss ambition and deception, or just to celebrate Glenn Close.