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May Flowers: 'The Hours'

Kurt here from Your Movie Buddy. In an intro to cinema studies course, my peers and I were tasked to select and present a three- to five- minute segment from a film for a collegiate show and tell. The terms: choose something that features effective editing and/or noteworthy use of music. With the field so finely narrowed (sarcasm), my mind went...everywhere. Rather than drive myself nuts, I opted for the opening credits sequence of a movie I always feel like I've seen recently: The Hours.

This remains one of my very favorite movies of the aughts, and it's a fine specimen for Nat's "May Flowers" series. The brisk and beautiful introduction culminates with a trio of bouquets, but more on those in a bit. Guided by Phillip Glass's score (by turns elegant, chipper and paranoid), we wake up with three women, all of them linked by Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. We have Virginia (Nicole Kidman), the writer; Laura (Julianne Moore), the reader; and Clarissa (Meryl Streep), the character (in a matter of speaking). The sequence sets the stage for the three ladies' storylines, which seem to run parallel, but are decades – and miles – apart.

What's cemented most firmly is the amount of mental and emotional effort it takes for each woman to face a new day. There's an unspoken anguish at the thought of rising from the pillow, then a palpable panic once standing has been achieved. Another day, another hill to summit, another 15-or-so hours of oscillating between back-burnering personal wants and allowing them to feed an unshakable unhappiness.

Our first glimpses of flowers – or, shall we say, vegetation indicative of thriving life – come with the morning arrival of each woman's significant other (someone really needs to invent a cropped version of that label – signoth?). Leonard Woolf (Stephen Dillane) descends through greenery onto the groomed lawn of his London estate; Laura's husband, Dan (John C. Reilly), enters their L.A. home with an armful of yellow roses; and Sally (Allison Janney), Clarissa's lover, sneaks into bed around dawn while the camera catches a white, blossoming tree outside. They are peeks at happiness, peeks at hope, which these spouses hold onto – some more actively and explicitly than others – because their partners can't.

As the women ache to start their morning rituals, and Peter Boyle's riveting editing drives home their spiritual links, director Stephen Daldry (who will probably never top this film) adds flowers to the frame to juxtapose that anguish, that panic, that uncertainty of how to proceed (he even pairs Meryl with some orchids, a la her other 2002 movie, Adaptation). Tensions mount, fears heighten, and finally there's nothing left to do but bloody well get on with it. The push to face the day is marked by three rapid, successive shots of flowers – the only things that truly brighten the sequence.

Whenever someone asks me what The Hours is about (not that that happens very often), I'm always hesitant to say it's essentially about three depressed women. To me (and perhaps, to many of you), that may sound ripe with possibility, but for plenty of others, it sounds like a deal-breaker. Yet, finding ways press on – or, in some cases, failing to do so – has always been at the core of drama, and just because The Hours is domesticted doesn't make it any less momentous. I saw The Beaver recently, and was struck by how rare it is for a film to feature depression as the villain. Not mania, not addiction, not schizophrenia, just crushing, crippling sadness. Naturally, there's more at play, but this is what The Hours does, and it does it amazingly well. There's gloom, yes, but there's so much said about how to live life, or at least how to want to live it if you simply can't muster the strength. Not enough? Well, there's the gorgeous technical craft, that incredible cast (the names of which keep popping up to make this sequence extra great) and, of course, flowers.

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Reader Comments (17)

i love love love love The Hours. I can watch again and again. Have you heard the DVD commentary by Moore, Kidman and Streep? Illuminating.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMurtada

Great post. Love this movie.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W

I was 12 when i saw The Hours but even then knew of its beauty and brilliance. I revisited it a few months back and its the best. As an Actor, its the cast that excites and elates me the most, Kidman, Moore and La Streep are all super and Toni Collette made a movie of her own with a few moments. Super.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

Stephen Daldry also astounds and amazes me. As a Brit, he's one of ours I'm most proud of. Daldry is also the Actressexual of the director's of our time, what he did with the women of The Hours and Kate Winslet in The Reader was WOW.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

I love this post! This might be one of my favorite movies ever. The way that depression is displayed in this movie is done so well, because this is what depression is about, fighting those lonely, boring hours in which nothing really happens. And it shows how lonely and isolated it makes you feel, because no one understands wat the women are going through and why. Especially in Laura Brown's case. She just left her family and I think in todays society a mother not loving her children is still one of the biggest taboos. I think in a way it's very similar to 'A Single Man', another movie that explores the subject of depression.

Plus, the acting is superb of course. With a cast like Julianne Moore, Nicolke Kidman, Meryl Streep, Toni Colette & Ed Harris what more can you ask for?

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNina

I just love this movie, it always improve on rewatch
Nicole Kidman delivers one of my favorite performances of all time
One of the best oscar wins ever.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

What a great post. I can't really put in words how much I love, love, love this movie - it has meant so much to me for various reasons. Perfection.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeehee

I love this movie... but Kidman's win was not the best of all time ... maybe supporting win... but still not the best... Streep simply stole the movie IMO

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrick

I had a heart attack reading the title of this post. I love this movie so mucho. I just did a piece of writing about Daldry’s 3 movies. I even borrowed the book to see the original story, although there are some changes here and here in the movie. But still, what a terrific movie. Also, this article is wonderful, honestly.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMikhael

i realized that this is a pretty flawed movie and there are a lot of valid arguments made about its somewhat pretentious and heavyhanded nature, but a part of me is just inexplicably attached to this movie. i watch it all the time.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

Everyone has their favorites and Kidman is my favorite! I also love Meryl and Julianne, but I liked Kidman the best and was really happy when she won!

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterl;oved Kidman

simply put, the film that made me interested in acting :)

I too concur on Kidman's performance being one of the best Oscar wins ever, it sets a unique mood that stands a level or two higher than Julianne Moore's Far From Heaven and than most performances I've ever seen.

The movie is withdrawn from the viewer in such a specific way which makes it heartbreaking.

The characters let you in their house but make sure you're a guest.

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

This is my favourite movie! This movie made me interested in cinema. The acting, the director, the editing, the writing, the score - flawless. I have watched it 10 times at least and every time I have found a new message, a new line that makes me think about life.
The cast - a dream come true; Nicole's win - one of my favourite Oscar moments!

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

This is a very well written article and certainly the opening sequence is a good exercise in editing and score but I'll be THAT guy and just say it -- this is not a great movie. There are so many missteps, Daldry makes way too many mistakes and the acting ranges too inconsistently that I'm shocked I'm the first poster to break up the lovefest here. The novel was so elegant and seamless and in no way near as heavy handed or as clunky as this film approached. I first saw it in theatres when it came out in early 03 and have subsequently seen it quite a few times and my opinion of the film just seems to get worse with each passing viewing. It's just too much and it doesn't seem to care how to say anything to the audience that doesn't include hysterics or tears. Daldry doesn't know how to make the whole thing work without solely resorting to that downright awful screenplay or making everything feel too labored over, too constructed, too self-conscious. There's no truth here and the pathos is not earned and he fails in bringing even the acting together. The fact that Toni Collette find so much realness and heartbreak in her two minutes of screentime, all on her own, says the world about this film.

However, from a technical standpoint, it's practically flawless. The costumes, sets, cinematography, most of the editing and a good portion of the score are simply fantastic.

But don't get me started on those Oscar nods. Ed Harris? PURE BAIT. I'd rather have had Stephan Dillane, Miranda Richardson and especially the marvelous Collette recognized instead, they were all wonderful. And I'll never understand why people were upset with Streep getting snubbed, it was one of her least successful performances. You can practically hear the acting gears grinding in her head. And her big breakdown scene is one big flop. A disservice to Our Lady Meryl. An unforgivable crime, Daldry.

Also as for Kidman's win -- Julianne wuz robbed! It must be said.

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Nicole Kidman - the train scene - nuff said, she deserved that oscar.

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterQas

This is a fine post, Kurt which is a great set up for the constant use of the triangle them in the film. The Hours is just excellence.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

Set your life time easier take the credit loans and all you want.

December 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCelina21VELEZ

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