Saturday, August 15, 2009

House of Mirth (2000)

I was very nervous about watching this one as it is one of those that people report as the worst movie ever made or the most brilliant movie they have ever seen. I doubted I would believe either of those, but I was worried about truly disliking this movie. I needn't have worried.

Lawrence (Eric Stoltz) and Lily (Gillian Anderson) would have had beautiful redheaded, blue-eyed and, almost so pale as to be translucent, children

As a woman of the early 1900s, Lily Barton (Gillian Anderson) finds herself in a most common quandary for women of that time. Does she marry for love or does she find a rich man to marry so she can live without material worry? Of course, that is not the only plot driving this film. It is also about society and what sacrifices one must make to stay true to oneself. Lily is torn between a life with a society lawyer that she loves, Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz), and the possibility of marrying a rich man, most likely Sim Rosedale (Anthony LaPaglia). Add to that the nasty turns of society with her frenemy Bertha Dorset (Laura Linney) and best friend's husband Gus Trenor (Dan Akroyd) and Lily finds herself in many precarious situations. As she says herself, "We resist the big temptations, but it is the little ones that pull us down."

I really think Gillian was wonderful in this role. I read so many reviewers talking about how slow her speech seemed and how stiff and reserved she seemed. Well, yeah, that was the way the character was supposed to be. This whole movie is not about spelling out the feelings of the characters in words, but watching subtle nuances on the actor's faces for emotional cues. In fact, most of this movie is about characters saying one thing, but the actors having to pull off showing a completely different emotion on their faces. There really were some wonderful performances in this that I am not sure people in the age of Terminator and the like would truly understand.

One of the wonderful scenes of the movie was between Lily and Lawrence. They make simply touching hands seem so erotic. With Lily's breathing becoming more rapid and Lawrence saying he has nothing to offer her, but it would be hers if he did. The heartbreak of what little is being said there, but with such underlying meaning. All the while the gentle touch of two hands .... and the ache of desire. Yet circumstances making it so that neither is willing to risk their need for material comfort for love.

I have to admit, I have never read Edith Wharton's book so I was terribly confused by the title. After some research I found the answer. Ecclesiastes 7:3-4: Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. I really like this quotation for, at times, this proves I must surely be most wise.

Lastly, I have to speak about Bertha's character and Laura Linney's performance of Bertha. I have often thought Laura Linney is a most underrated actress. She proves it yet again with her turn as Bertha who would be a welcome addition on any of today's reality TV shows. She would be known as what is called "good TV". Some of the quotes from the movie referencing her character are wonderful such as, "For always getting what she wants in the long run, commend me to a nasty woman." This is followed up with a question about liking such a nasty person. The response is, "It's much safer to be fond of dangerous people." Laura plays her as such a cunning and manipulative little ... witch. She is sheer ... witchy perfection.

I do admit that this movie is quite a downer. It is sad that the whole reason that Lily couldn't succeed - her fatal flaw - is that she was simply too nice to play the ruthless games that one had to play in high society. She had many chances to triumph over those who pushed her down, but she always felt her dignity and staying true to herself was more important.

As for my recommendation, the costumes, sets, performances and cinematography - everything about this movie is wonderful. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes subtle films and is okay with an unhappy ending.


Juliette. said...

Yes! Glad to hear-- Gillian Anderson's one of my modern obsessions, so I look forward to this one.

AbbyNormal said...

Juliette - If you give this one a try, I don't think you will be disappointed. Gillian is stunning in this.

Juliette. said...

Neat, thanks!