Virginia Woolf: A woman’s whole life in a single day. Just one day. And in that day her whole life.
The Hours, directed by Stephen Daldry and written by David Hare, is centered around three women; Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughan, living in three different times but connected by one novel, Mrs. Dalloway. In a memorable opening scene Virginia, living in the countryside of England in 1921, writes down her first sentence; ‘Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.’, which intercuts to Los Angeles, 1951, where Laura reads the sentence out loud and Clarissa, in New York, 2001, shouts ‘Sally, I think I’ll buy the flowers myself.’
Based on a novel of the same title, and written by Michael Cunningham, The Hours captures the essence of three lives in the span of one seemingly ordinary day, in the course of which their life is altered. The framework of the story, showing three women get up in the morning and prepare for a dinner party, contrasts strongly to the inner turmoil they are going through. Hence, mundane actions, like Laura baking a cake for her husband’s birthday party carry subtle significance:
Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway was exceptional in it’s time, as it explored the characters with psychological precision—the momentary thoughts and memories of each character disclose more about their personalities than their actions, as the plot remains minimal. During Clarissa Dalloway’s party, amid idle chatter, she learns of a man, Septimus, who has committed suicide that day. He had suffered from shell shock due to his traumatic experiences during WWI, and decided to end his life. Virginia herself went through episodes of hallucination and depression; through Septimus, her alter ego of sorts, she condemns the dismissive treatment of mental illness, and criticizes the class structure of her time.
The themes of The Hours are heavy, but not without hope. The way I see it, the film is really a celebration of life; the way the three stories are framed within the space of just one day, each character making the best of their situations—be the outcome life or death.
Virginia Woolf: Dear Leonard. To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard, always the years between us, always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.