Released commercially this week in Metro Manila Theaters is Stephen Daldry’s female drama “The Hours.” The film captures the lives of three women who lived in three different time periods and environments.

The film gives us a peek into the troubled and complicated world of the female psyche, as it dissolves, deconstructs and subjectifies the myths and quasi-truths that have long been accepted by society as the measures of happiness, fulfillment and all-encompassing definition of the female essence. Thus, the film maintains an ideology that may be halfway through feminism yet detours into the more vague postmodernism.

Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) is a middle-aged woman of the present time who is about to draw a party for her special friend Richard, a gay man afflicted with AIDS. Rewound into mid-twentieth century, one finds Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), a simple infanticipating housewife who is preparing a cake for her husband’s birthday. The lives of these two women are intertwined with the life and work of Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman), a famous writer of the early twentieth century.

The film opens with a view of the flowing river, easily suggesting a continuity of fate and predicament which is seen throughout the film, as it draws parallelisms in the lives of these three women, intercutting with one period to another, conveying the message that time does very little, if not nothing at all to change how one understands women or if put on a more reflective manner, how society perceives women.

In the film, Virginia Woolf is shown as an accomplished writer. However, her success in her vocation is not enough to earn her the respect of her servants. Her inability to connect with her immediate environment transforms her into a disenchanted outsider. Her relationship with her husband remains harmonious albeit distant.

On the other hand, Laura Brown is a dutiful housewife and mother who sees her environment not as a home but more of a prison. In the early frames of the film, she is shown as a wife and mother who is not even at ease in being one.

Meanwhile, Clarissa Vaughn is depicted as a contemporary woman who takes care of somebody else to distract herself from her own life and existence. Superficially, she is depicted as a compassionate and loving woman with an all-too-human heart. But deep inside, she is cold, selfish, bitter and a coward who masquerades as somebody who takes care of the needy just to show that she has a purpose and that she is important.

Certainly, the film touches on a lot of issues and tries to address and eventually dismantle the myths that have been taken up as facts.

First and foremost, the film conveys the message that marriage and motherhood do not define the essence of a woman. With Laura Brown, we see that being a wife and mother are actually the roots of her unhappiness and misery. She had lost herself by playing roles that she is forced to choose between playing roles and actually living the life she wants in the end.

The film also seems to suggest that the opposite sex has very little to do in terms of defining a woman’s happiness. In the lives of both Laura and Virginia, we see responsible, understanding and kind-hearted husbands that could perhaps be the relish of every woman with a dream to eventually marry and settle down. However, it is evident in the film that these characteristics are not enough to make a woman happy. Throughout the film, we see the central characters as women who have minds of their own, exclusive of their husbands and loved ones. Hence, they are put in situations where they eventually have to face their own existence while on the other hand, trying to run away from it.

The film also conveys that altruism is not as important as the one who is actually performing the altruistic act. The feeling or the sense of being needed becomes a security blanket that prevents one from examining her own life and oftentimes becomes a selfish motive in itself.

The film also tackles on the issue of female relationships and female bonding. Hence, it is not more of a matter of women needing men but actually women finding solace and peace in the company of other women, sans any sexual connotation.

As for artistic evaluation, the film is highly commendable for breathing new life to the often saturated melodramatic arena of run-of-the-mill movies about people trying to make sense of their own lives. The aspect of time that is utilized in the film enriches the whole viewing experience. However, there are moments when the script becomes overly serious that it is evident that some humorous injections are sadly lacking in the film, in favor of philosophizing and introspection.

On the other hand, the technical elements of the film- cinematography, editing, sound and production design have all been utilized artistically, except for the music which tends to be obtrusive, unnecessary and overly used in some parts where the use of silence is more properly suitable.

However, the greatest strength of this film is its acting. All three characters deliver such strong performances and they are well-matched by the equally strong supporting cast, especially Ed Harris, who played Streep’s gay friend and Stephen Dillane who was equally magnificent as Virginia Woolf’s other half. Kidman’s prosthetics-enriched performance is worthy of an Oscar nod (although she was clearly inferior to Dianne Lane’s flawless act in “Unfaithful”) but she does not necessarily upstage Streep or Moore in this film. Daldry’s direction, meanwhile, is smooth and assured till the very end.

Finally, “The Hours” is such a sweeping film with a truthful, reflective and honest outlook on women and life in general. It is a poignant film that is definitely, one from the heart.

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