Iris, based on the life of revered British writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch, is a story of unlikely yet enduring love. As a young academic, teaching philosophy at Oxford, Murdoch meets and eventually falls in love with fellow professor John Bayley, a man whose awkwardness seems in stark opposition to the spirited self-confidence of his future wife. The story unfolds as snippets of time, seen through Bayley's eyes. He recalls their first encounter over 40 years ago, activities they enjoyed doing together, and Iris' charismatic and individualistic personality. These images portray Murdoch as a vibrant young woman with great intellect and are contrasted with the novelist's later life, after the effects of Alzheimer's disease have ravaged her. Murdoch's great mind deteriorates until she is reduced to a mere vestige of her former self, unable to perform simple tasks and completely reliant on her at times frustrated yet devoted husband. Written by
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This film succeeds where the overrated "A Beautiful Mind" fell short. It puts its subject's life into perspective and gives a sense of her worldview and, needs, and desires--as opposed to just focusing on the illness. I think it is also more effective in its use of different actors to portray the main characters at different ages, rather than using distracting age makeup, like in ABM. I came away from this with a profound admiration for Iris Murdock, whereas I felt like I hardly got to know John Nash at all.
But enough with the comparisons. This film stands well on its own as a tribute to the companionship shared by Iris and her husband John Bayley throughout their long, complex, relationship. Broadbent deserved that Academy Award, although I would say he plays more of a lead character than supporting. Seeing Iris through Bayley's loving eyes is what makes the film an enriching experience. He is the one who must adapt to her unconventional lifestyle, and their journey together is a rewarding one.
One person who commented stated that this was "another disease movie." Funny how you never hear a complaints about "another gangster movie" or "another romantic comedy" or "another suspense thriller." SO WHAT? First of all, it is not a disease movie, it is at its heart a romance, and a "meaning of life" film, much moreso than a film about Alzheimer's disease. Secondly, the disease is the device used to illustrate their level of understanding and commitment to each other. And finally, I cannot imagine telling Murdock's story WITHOUT giving the disease its proper weight in the course of the film.
The scenes when the characters are younger are blended seamlessly with the latter day scenes. Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville (uncannily resembling a young Broadbent) are very true to their older counterparts' personalities, and add yet another dimension to film. All in all, this is a production of which director Richard Eyre and cast (and Bayley, who wrote the book on which the film is based) should be extremely proud. It should have been seen by more people in 2001. Grade: A
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