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THE WIFE : Existential Crisis meets Nobel Glory

In one of the scenes from “ The Wife”, Author Joe Castleman ( Jonathan Pryce) and his wife Joan ( Glenn Close) jump on their bed when a phone call informs them that Joe has been conferred upon with the Nobel Prize in Literature. The scene looks innocent and extremely natural for someone to be conferred on the biggest honor in the world. But this however, is a nicely veneered shell of the relationship between Joe and Joan. One closer look at this celebrity couple and things are a bit more morose. This contrarian “heal and hell” narrative is at the center of “The Wife”.

“The Wife” is a film directed by Swedish filmmaker Bjorn Runge and stars Jonathan Pryce, Glenn Close and Christian Slater in pivotal roles. The film also features Max Irons (Jeremy Irons’ son) and Annie Maude Starke ( Glenn Close’s daughter) in important roles as well. It’s based on the book of the same name by Meg Wolitzer. This essay aims at exploring the various themes and ideas the movie tries to explore.

The Plot

“The Wife” talks about the relationship of Joe and Joan Castleman. Joe is conferred with the Nobel prize in literature. The Castleman couple plan a trip to Stockholm to accept the award and their son also accompanies them on the trip. They are also tailed by Nathaniel Bone, a desperate biographer hoping to gain access to Joan and Joe on the trip where he hopes to get their blessings on the biography of Joe.

The film largely focuses on the Stockholm itinerary and also goes back in time every now and then to take a peek into the origin of their many decades’ old marriage and their trials and tribulations.

The Idea

What if your global stature is faff ? Can you think of a legend who was actually a hack? Director Runge creates some extraordinary circumstances for its lead characters by deploying the talent of extraordinary actors. He actually has created an unconventional underdog. An uncelebrated wife of a celebrated professional. The years of pain, the years of agony and the years of joy bringing up their children. But what is different about “The Wife” is that it discusses the marriage of a lifetime at almost the near end of these people. Joe is 70 plus (give or take) and Joan too has been living in the shadows for decades. The Director then literally takes the viewer into unexpected flashbacks from the past to build more nuances in the present of Joe and Joan.

The Dysfunctional family

It takes a lot of talent to etch out characters to show a highly dysfunctional family which is shown entrenched deeply in patriarchy but is actually otherwise. Joe who looks to be talented is an absolutely confused man who hides his flings with different women. Joan who is the soul of writing for Joe has no idea of her life’s goal. Joe’s son David is a budding writer but is woefully unacknowledged by his father. Max Irons plays his role to perfection. Their daughter Susannah is very carefully sidelined in the film to focus on the ‘three’. I am assuming this is done strategically as David is also a writer and in part is the same ‘animal’ as Joe and John. The real fragility is on display when Nathaniel Bone ( Slater as the conniving paparazzi ish Author) tries to scratch the surface of the Castlemans by flirting with Joan in a bar and by over socializing with Max.

However, Runge does one thing truly remarkable in the film. He makes no victim of any of the characters. Both Joe and Joan are imperfect from the start. And even at the end one gets a feeling that Joan ‘is having fun’ of sorts.

The Peerless ness of being Glenn Close

Glenn Close is almost 72 years old. In her rich and prolific career she has given at least a dozen career defining performances. One can hardly forget any of her work in “Fatal Attraction” as the brooding psychotic one-night muse of Michael Douglas, The Silk attire clad Vice President in “Air Force One”, in “Dangerous Liaisons”, As Sunny Von Bulow in “Reversal Of Fortune”, as Cruella DeVille in “101 Dalmatians” and many more! Close’s performance in many ways is a tribute to her long standing body of work. She plays the ‘dejected and minimized” add on to a literary giant with poise. In one of the scenes Joe mentions “ I am glad she does not write..otherwise I will have a writers block” and she just swallows it with no effort. But through her eyes she conveys ‘the agony of it all’. But at the same time she puts her family together whenever there is a reason for a major fight. Her defiance against Nathaniel who is determined to break her silence is a treat for the eyes. While others act, Glenn Close is not far from Meryl Streep or Angela Lansbury. It’s a privilege to see her perform in the movie. The very fact that her real life daughter Annie Maude Starke plays her younger self makes it even more compelling as Starke strikes all the right notes in her first big movie outing.

The Production and Music of “The Wife”

A major part of the shooting takes place in Stockholm, Sweden, which is also the home country of the Director. He and his production team of Mark Leese create a ‘closed and an elaborate world’ of the Nobel Prize Ceremony and the minute details attached to it. The pale, white snow capped city of Stockholm brings a sense of ‘restriction’ and ‘isolation’. It really helps the characters churn out their various layers. The music of Jocelyn Pook (who gave music for Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut”) adds a distinct rhythm to the story telling. It looks as if the Castleman’s world which is intensely personal becomes a spectacle of sorts. It is because of the way “The Wife” is shot that makes its characters brilliant and believable.

Final Verdict

I would give “The Wife” a 7 out of 10 purely because of the subject and the performance of Close and Pryce. The Director too has created something unique. The story is grounded even though the plot at times looks illogical; but the strong performances makeup for that.

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