Glenn Close Powers ‘The Wife’ With Her Formidable Talent
Hear all about Glenn Close’s Oscar nominated performance.
Glenn Close powers ‘The Wife’ with her formidable talent
The Wife opens with the Castelmans, Joan and Joseph, in their upper middle class home, positively anticipating a call from the Nobel Prize committee. The year is 1992. When the call arrives to announce that Joseph has actually won the Nobel Prize in literature, Joan picks up the extension in the other room. As the husband’s praise mounts in a foreign voice, the camera focusses on the wife, her face wide-eyed with a canvas of emotions. Do we really know what she is feeling? It’s this moment that Björn Runge’s film takes its entire duration to unpack.
Literature lore is filled with stories of women behind great writers, male writers who couldn’t keep their hands in control, or female talent that never flourished because of long lasting patriarchal traditions. Adapted from Meg Wolitzer’s novel of the same name by Jane Anderson (who did a magnificent job in adapting Olive Kitteridge for the screen), The Wife takes on a literary cliché, and expands it with heft and theatrical ambition. This has been possible only because the woman at the center of the whirlpool, is played by Glenn Close.
One of the prodigious actors in all of cinema, Close plays Joan with a Tolstoyan verve – grand in sweep and intimate in feelings, all at once. Joseph is played by Jonathan Pryce, who is the fusion of all the writers who quote James Joyce at the drop of their hat, who hinge on self-importance and diffidence, and can’t stop womaninisng. Pryce fails to persuade the tale as that literary superstar, and in front of Close, he dims further.
Joan accompanies her husband to Stockholm, and plays the role of a dutiful wife. Also comes along is her son David (Max Irons) who longs for his father’s approval, and Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater oozing dollops of effectual slime), a biographer who suspects there’s more to the about-to-be-feted writer’s legacy than what meets the eyes.
This is the main playground of the story. While we progress to the big night, we come across simmering tension in the familial bonds. We also travel back to the past, where we meet young Joan (Close’s real-life daughter Annie Starke) and young Joseph (Harry Lloyd). Joseph was a teacher of creative writing, and a much married man when he had an affair with his student Joan. It was also the time when Joan had a flair for words, and had aspirations as a writer.
Runge builds his film brick by brick with the help of Close’s mercurial talent. The director deserves our kudos because he displays conviction, in keeping the turns of his plot hidden in the facial mask of Close. Joan is passive, a devoted wife parading polite smiles, but she is imploding inside slowly, leading us to her well-earned finale.
Literature and the very art of writing depends on the interiority of us, and cinema doesn’t have enough means at its disposal to reveal that. Anderson’s writing and Ulf Brantås’ lensing gives Runge the right dynamism to shut up all the impulses of exposition, and when they meet Close’s awe-inspiring talent, we witness how a marriage can crumble in the tiny movement of a facial muscle.
In the post #MeToo era, the arrival of The Wife is a signifier. Somehow in the routine of nature and nurture, we failed the women. Close holds our hand to take us through the oppression, manipulation, and exploitation of ages, and compels us to introspect. And the Oscar should go to…
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)
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