By Maya Lalchandani
The Wife portrays the dynamics of a complex marriage played by the brilliant actors Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce, explained beautifully in throwbacks. It runs along almost like a psychological thriller, injecting some or the other nuance that lets you exhale before the next scene. A drama film directed by Björn Runge and written by Jane Anderson, based on the novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, it was first released in 2017 in Canada before making its way to the US in 2018. It has only recently been released at Indian cinemas.
The film is about an impassioned life of sorts, with some pretty overwhelming compromises made by the wife to keep up the semblance of a near-perfect relationship.
What is portrayed as a calm marriage is anything but that, even though both partners have appeared complementary to each other for over four decades. The man Joe being the Great American Novelist is almost self-effacing, enjoying his role as the intellectual and the one who is capable enough to actually win a Nobel Prize for his prolific work.
On the other hand, the wife Joan is a silent bystander, understandably besotted with her husband once and maybe still is, as she continues to make major sacrifices to make him look better than he is. That is primarily what she traded the truth for: to be loved and to be married to him.
Actor, singer and producer Glenn Close plays Joan’s role to a T, her face deadpan, speaking volumes with only her resilient demeanour and her eyes. The camera pans her character in steely stoic silences. The Oscar Academy didn’t believe the performance deserved an award, but it was Oscar-worthy for me, since it is well-known how many women live that role, seething, simmering with the forced compromises, the secrets they keep and the betrayals that are planned in dire need for the survival they seek. The honesty hits one right between the eyes. Only another woman can recognise that.
As the couple travel to Stockholm for the ultimate award, The Nobel Prize for Literature, the story unravels and the resentment begins to spill out. The wrath of the woman emerges in spurts. Somewhere the light slips into the cracks and she begins to realise that she deserved more. She was the one who deserved to be feted and recognised for her brilliance with the written word. He was merely the spouse who hungered for success in his community.
There are so many instances in the movie that make you want the wife to revolt, to claim her truth, extract her pound of flesh, but the everyday machinations of a marriage rule. One scene particularly stands out: Joan nearly blurts out her truth during a heated argument with Joe, but the heightened tension of the moment is broken with the ring of the telephone. They are informed that they are going to be grandparents and all is well again.
What’s interesting is that theirs looks like a successful marriage, up until the time her husband’s arrogant behaviour forces out Joan’s suppressed rage and thwarted ambition, even as he is being readied to receive the award of a lifetime. She starts to retaliate and the truth trickles out through different forms, finally explaining why even their able son has turned into such a complex being.
It is disappointing that Glenn Close, an actor-singer-producer who has won numerous and well-deserved awards in her long Hollywood career, including the Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and Critics’ Choice Movie Award as Best Actress for her performance for The Wife, she did not win an Oscar for it. She holds the record amongst actresses to have the most nominations without winning (seven, including for The Wife), but this particular loss has had the Internet up in arms, among other grouses.
How the director has treated the relationship is commendable. Give it a watch to see if Joan comes out unscathed from this personal rebellion. Was there ever a woman who was lucky enough to do so?