Iris, the biopic of Dame Iris Murdoch, based
on two books by her husband, John Bayley, is mercifully only
90 minutes long. This Academy Award-nominated movie is a prestige
picture all the way, but does not live up to its advance press.
Director Eyre tells the story of this writer and philosopher
by juxtaposing her youthful self (played by Winslet, often
naked) with the mere shell she becomes (Dench) after developing
Alzheimer's disease in her later years. This is occasionally
confusing as to persons. Some characters who were shown fleetingly
in Murdoch's youth loom much larger in her later years, and
the whos and whys are not quite clear. Others, like her lover
Maurice (a hot, sulky West) disappear entirely for years.
Yes, yes, that happens in life, but then he shows up again
as if he's been a regular part of Murdoch's circle. Confusing.
The wonderful performances we've come to expect from actors
like Dench, Winslet, and especially Broadbent are here. Hugh
Bonneville was also good as the young Bayley, a kind of Jimmy
Corrigan who can't believe he's even in the same orbit as
this woman, let alone a serious suitor. Despite excellent
acting, it's never clear what made Murdoch such a gem. She's
sexually free, yet rather cold; thoughty but not especially
thoughtful; interested in love more in theory than in application.
Likewise the story of her descent into Alzheimer's is lacking.
Yes, it's a sad thing to watch the essence of Murdoch being
slowly erased, especially while she's still conscious of it.
But it's not particularly any sadder than, say, your unfamous
Aunt Edna's similar fate. As one who trafficks in words, I
could certainly relate to Murdoch's terror at having them
just depart; very scary indeed. Dench's portrayal of a woman
slipping away, piecemeal, was so harrowingly real that my
inability to remember exactly where I parked the car when
I left the theater nearly brought on a full-blown panic attack.
In the end, though, the chiefest measure of this sort of
movie is, "Am I now more interested in the subject?"
It's too bad, but watching Iris engendered no further
interest in reading anything by or about Murdoch or Bayley.