February 13, 2002 10:10am EST
This film is based on Elegy for Iris literary critic John Bayley's biography of his late wife the brilliant writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch. Iris is unconventional in the sense that it does not adhere to a structured plot or story line but instead focuses on their relationship by flashing back and forth between the present and 40 years ago when the two first met. In the sequences taking place in the past Kate Winslet plays a young confident Murdoch in her formative years a woman revered by men and openly bisexual. Hugh Bonneville plays the young and apprehensive Bayley hopelessly pursuing her. The present however reveals a drastic role reversal for the couple: We see Murdoch in her 70s as played by Judi Dench and witness her descent into Alzheimer's disease and the toll it takes on her husband played by Jim Broadbent. The once-subservient husband has been thrust into a caretaker position and painfully tries to cope with his beloved wife's illness and loss of sanity.
Dench deservedly received a best actress Oscar nomination for the fabulous job she does as the older Murdoch. She is convincing as a brilliant thinker and even more believable as her condition worsens--check out the heartbreaking scene when Bayley locks himself in the study to get away from her irrational behavior and she scratches the windowpane on the glass door like a cat while looking at her husband with utter helplessness. Dench conveys her character's vulnerability in a single glance. As an older Bayley Broadbent is as impressive as Dench especially as he struggles to be assertive yet avoid being too harsh. Bonneville as a young Bayley could almost be Broadbent's clone. At first glance he looks like the same actor made to look older through some sort of makeup or special effects wizardry. Bonneville skillfully hatches the young Bayley's traits and tics later perfected by Broadbent. Winslet also Oscar-nominated for Iris (in the supporting actress category) well plays Murdoch's early audacity and boldness.
Director Richard Eyre does a beautiful and seamless job flowing from the past to the present throughout the film. Although the film barely delves into Murdoch's work the importance of her writing is established with scenes from a BBC interview or a luncheon given in her honor. Eyre also does an exceptional job conveying Bayley's hopeless predicament: he fusses over Murdoch like an overprotective parent intermittently lashing out at her only to apologize sobbing afterward for having done so. It's sweet and pitiful especially since Bayley believes that the Iris he fell in love with is still in there somewhere. But while the film is visually exquisite and convincing the subject matter is not necessarily entertaining. We know Murdoch will eventually succumb to her illness but it's even more dreadful to have to watch every agonizing step. By the time Murdoch was reduced to playing in the dirt and watching Teletubbies I found myself wondering When is she going to die already?
Comte Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) the legendary
French libertine and writer of dirty stories who lent his name to the term
"sadism " goofs away the last decadent years of his life in an insane
asylum. But the black-market publication of his latest porno masterpiece
upsets the unorthodox arrangements he has with a mischievous chambermaid
(Kate Winslet) and the open-minded priest who administers the facility
(Joaquin Phoenix). Soon a harsh new supervisor (Michael Caine) arrives with
orders to break the unrepentant Marquis.
While he bears little physical resemblance to the historical de Sade -- a
350-pound 64-year-old at the time of his death in 1814 -- Rush ("Shine")
nails the combustible mixture of monster and intellectual rebel that makes
the character such a fascinating counterculture icon. Meanwhile "Titanic"
leading lady Winslet has almost too much sultry star presence for what is
little more than an overglorified henchwoman part. The talented Phoenix
("Gladiator") has much more to work with as a young priest caught in an
increasingly painful moral dilemma.
Philip Kaufman who previously indulged in raunchy literary biography with
1990's "Henry and June " digs into substantial issues about free speech and
the incendiary power of ideas in a piece that plays like "Amadeus" meets
"The People vs. Larry Flynt." Kaufman and screenwriter Doug Wright (adapting
his own stage play) mean to wash all this down with as much lurid teen sex
necrophilia and S&M as they can cram into an art film but there's something
a little too earnestly deliberate about their attempts to be crude and
salacious. Their Marquis is an entertaining enough fellow but he starts to
wear out his welcome as this highbrow tour of hell plods through its
somewhat tedious second hour.