There may be no better time for The Wife than this moment, in which the role of the male genius whose achievements came at the expense of unrecognized or exploited women is under scrutiny. (A few months in the doghouse, it seems, is plenty of time for celebrated entertainers to atone for sexually assaulting or intimidating women.) But the enforcing of male dominance at home or in the workplace need not only be specific acts of violence to be monstrous; denying a woman’s voice and right to be recognized for her achievements, then patronizingly claiming to love and value her, is not only maddeningly unjust but manipulative, whether malice is intended or not.
With that as its underlying theme, The Wife goes deeper than a bad man doing bad things to a good woman—it is just as interested in the society that made this situation permissible to begin with. The man in this case, is celebrated author Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Price), who has just won the Nobel Prize in Literature. His wife, Joan (Glenn Close), is excited, supportive, and protective of Joseph’s body of work. He frequently praises her and publicly declares gratitude for her love and support, while always including a bit of devaluation, along the lines of he wouldn’t be a great man without her love and support. Joan, on the other hand, has specifically said she does not like the spotlight, so all of this seems like a typical relationship between two slightly quirky and intelligent people from a previous generation who love one another in spite of their insecurities.
Where The Wife expands is by looking into the past, when Joan and Joseph first started their relationship—he was her writing teacher, praising her work with little moments of vague negative criticisms to assert his dominance. It is in this period that she both learned of her talent and grew cynical about the likelihood of succeeding as a woman in a male-dominated world of publishing. Without giving anything away, decisions made at that time were norms of the 1950s, but doing so locked in layers of resentment that went unaddressed for decades, until the Nobel Prize and the trip to Stockholm shined a light on problems and emotions that always existed.
190sFeaturing excellent performances and terrific direction by Björn Runge, The Wife tells an engaging story about a relationship, but makes a broader statement about power imbalance at home, in the workplace, and in society. To the world, Joan is “the wife,” and though many claim to love and recognize her, she is trapped in a gilded cage of being only the wife of a supposed genius, squashing her talent and individual voice, yet she actively resists being painted as a victim no matter how many affairs or indignities she endures. There is what could be called a twist that sheds more light on her character, but it is neither artificial nor cheap, growing naturally out of the emotions simmering beneath the surface. The Wife is an intelligent, tense, terrific movie whose narrow narrative scope allows it to deeply explore issues critical to society through excellently crafted characters, without cheapening the story or its message.
R, 100 minutes; Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
Playing this week:
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
A Simple Favor, Crazy Rich Asians, Mandy, The Nun, Peppermint, The Predator, White Boy Rick
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
A Simple Favor, Alpha, Assassination Nation, Christopher Robin, Crazy Rich Asians, Fahrenheit 11/9, God Bless the Broken Road, The House With A Clock In Its Walls, Life Itself, Pope Francis—A Man of His Word, The Meg , Mission Impossible: Fallout, The Nun, Peppermint, The Predator, Searching, White Boy Rick, The Wife
Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
A Simple Favor, BlacKkKlansman, Christopher Robin, Crazy Rich Asians, Fahrenheit 11/9, Juliet, Naked, The Nun, Peppermint, The Predator, Searching, White Boy Rick, Whitney