A Quiet Movie. Mildly disappointing in the same way as Deep Blue Sea – Davies casts some of my favorite actresses, and they’re wonderful in his films, and his use of light is simply the best, and there are some very nice words in the dialogue (like “pillory”), but it all seems kinda polite and I never connect emotionally in the way I feel I should. Much better than Sunset Song, anyway.
An episodic biopic of the life of Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon), with sister Jennifer Ehle (the only good part of Contagion), brother Duncan Duff, and friend Jodhi May (Nightwatching). Spoiler alert for a Terence Davies movie: her heart is full of poetry and yearning but her adult/love life doesn’t turn out very happily.
After an intro sequence where her family is played by younger actors, the movie changes eras, zooming in slowly on each character one at a time, and I was horrified to realize it was morphing the faces of the young actors into the old ones, a technique that I thought was abandoned soon after Michael Jackson’s Black or White video… but a couple seconds later I realized it’s really beautifully done here, and even again at the end, in the biopic-obligatory credits shots where they show the lead actor vs. the real person they’re portraying. The dialogue gets exasperating, but I could watch the actors do their thing forever.
Davies has always been as precise with time as Dickinson was with rhyme, and that ineffable sense of rhythm defines several of the standout sequences … The movie is defined by its staccato phrasings, elliptical flow, and opaquely confessional nature … She could have found a husband and moved out, the film suggests, but being a married woman in the 19th Century would have robbed her of what little creative control she was able to maintain over her own life; after all, she had to ask her father for permission to write, and she only did so in the dead of night, when everyone else was sleeping. Davies has said that, “Having your work taken away from you makes you feel like a non-person,” and just as Dickinson couldn’t stand an editor so much as moving a punctuation mark out of place, the filmmaker is too sensitive to survive the destruction of trying to move beyond his comfort zone.