August 26, 2004

Iris Review

  Interesting Amy Schneider review in Gilbert magazine of Iris, about English writer/philosopher Iris Murdoch and her husband:
The key to the film... is hinted at in something one of the characters says in Murdoch’s 1961 novel A Severed Head. “In almost every marriage there is a selfish and an unselfish partner.”

It is vital to understand that the Iris we see in every scene of this picture is never shown except from the perspective of her adoring husband. Iris is always center stage; every scene is about her and her painfully evident self-centeredness. Well, she’s a genius, isn’t she? And there in the background, or in the audience, or on the sidelines, we see John. He sees Iris clearly, inflated ego and all. He has no illusions about her. He simply loves her. His is that unconditional love we hear of so constantly, and so seldom ever see.

It is John who watches in growing dismay as his beloved Iris slides into the darkness of Alzheimer’s disease. It is he whose memory is jogged back to their younger days by these horrific events in the present. What happened when these two first met, for instance? For Iris, nothing happened. For John it was an earthquake. They court or date or whatever it was called in their circle. Iris is casual; John is buffeted between joy and despair. Iris seduces John. She is by no means faithful to him, however, and that he does not complain reveals rather than hides the depths of his hurt.

Iris loves John in her own way, but her own way is “free.” Chesterton called free love a contradiction in terms: by its very nature love seeks to bind. Iris Murdoch never understood this. John Bayley did. He bound himself to Iris knowing that she would never, by her own will, be bound to him. And then the day came when her will had nothing to do with it, when her will retreated to places her intellect could no longer understand or express. John Bayley, watching that slow retreat, realizes that at last she will be his.

“Where are those others now?” he shouts at her in a moment of angry frustration.“I have you now, don’t I?” And then the movie asks its big questions: Does he still want her now? Is it possible to love someone who doesn’t know who she is or where she is? And are we really loving her, or only the shadow, the memory of her? And lastly, is it possible that this person with her mind in a fog might love you back.

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