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Judi Dench's performance as Dame Iris Murdoch was not only flawless, pitch-perfect, and deeply moving, but it was also the performance of a lifetime. The Academy was ridiculous in overlooking her lost gazes, her subtle inflections in voice, her trembling hands, her puzzled mouth. Kate Winslet lost herself inside the young Iris, developing an entirely new set of facial expressions and voice tones. The movie accurately captures the intense passion for life and love that John Bayley describes in his novel, "Elegy For Iris." Altogether, a brilliant film, concise, humurous, terribly sad--and enhanced by four brilliant performances.
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
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
This film, inspired by John Bayley's memoir in tribute of his late
wife, the novelist Iris Murdoch, gives us some insight into the final
years of Murdoch as she struggled with the effects of Alzheimer's
Disease, and shows us how her personality developed from the quirky,
intelligent student of her young days into the self-assured, measured
writer at her peak.
Iris is played when young by Kate Winslet, whose portrayal veers from playful to irritating. As she grows older she morphs into the wonderful Judi Dench, giving a quite exceptional performance as the mature Murdoch. Playing John Bayley are two actors who uncannily resemble each other - Hugh Bonneville and Jim Broadbent. Broadbent was to win awards for his performance, and rightly so, although Bonneville was no less touching.
In a well-balanced supporting cast we have Penelope Wilton, Sam and Timothy West, Eleanor Bron, and Juliet Aubrey, giving assured performances.
Is 'Iris' truly a movie about a writer, and the business of writing and creativity? Well, no, as her writing is not central to the feel of the piece (although it does touch on her gift for words, and the tragic loss of the ability to process and work with them). It is something of a downbeat film, which will leave the more sensitive amongst you with damp eyes, but essentially it is an exceptional piece of work about the destructive power of dementia and Alzheimer's.
Iris is one of those dramas that is so startlingly well acted and
accurate to reality that you truly see the people on screen suffering
through the story rather than the actors portraying them. And in a film
that stars Judi Dench, that is a remarkable achievement. Dench and Kate
Winslet are made to look so similar that when the film jumps back and
forth between past and present, which it does quite often, it is never
jarring no matter how abrupt it is. The young Iris, played by Winslet,
is similar to the character that she played in Eternal Sunshine of the
Spotless Mind in many ways. She is sexually adventurous without being
promiscuous, independent without being unfriendly or unattached, and
dependent without being needy or reliant. She ultimately pursues a
successful career as a novelist, which serves to illustrate her love
and dependence on words and to enhance the effect of her deterioration
later in the film.
Iris is famously a study of Alzheimer's disease, which is the kind of thing that rarely makes its way into mainstream films, so it is that much more moving that a movie as brilliant as this one takes on the subject and brings it to the forefront in such a dramatic fashion. Iris goes from being a tremendously successful novelist to not understanding which side of an open door she should pass in order to get through it. As she loses touch with reality and experiences more and more difficulty in speaking and understanding, the most moving scenes are the ones that show the suffering that her husband goes through before his own deterioration.
Iris has spent her life exploring things like what it is that makes people happy and what makes them realize that they are happy once they are, and then shows as she loses touch with those things without even realizing it. Her husband, John Bayley, in a brilliant performance by Jim Broadbent, is the only man who she has ever been with that has truly loved her, and he is the one that has to watch her cognitive abilities decline. He is literally watching the love of his life slip away from him without her even realizing it.
The film is beautifully shot and the musical score enhances the film spectacularly and unobtrusively. It brings out the emotions in a movie about losing not only memory, but about losing the your identity, losing yourself. The gradual nature of the onset of Alzheimer's disease is one of the most brilliantly presented elements in the film. There is a conversation that Iris and her husband have in which she gives him a quote, which he responds to in a way that shows his own mental decline, and then Iris' as well.
Iris - "Between two evils always choose the one you haven't tried before."
John - "Mae West. Oh my vest! I tore my vest again this morning!"
Iris - "You must get some new vests."
John "Jolly good "
Iris "You must get some new vests," then, surprised at herself, "I just said that."
This all kind of makes me wonder, because it is not very rare that I will ask someone a question that I already asked and they already answered, sometimes only a minute or two before, and when they tell me I just asked them that question I have to explain that I just wasn't sure if I had asked them out loud or just thought the question in my head. Where the answer ever went in my brain remains a mystery.
It is very important that the movie spends so much time showing how much of a fiercely intelligent philosopher (in Kate Winslet's words) Iris Murdock was, because it emphasizes the totality with which Alzheimer's affects her ability to think. As a young woman she could talk circles around people, but when she grew older and Alzheimer's began to set in she became confused by the simplest concepts, and the difficulty that her husband found in attempting to explain things to her and hide what must have been his overwhelming emotion.
I'm in the middle of reading a wonderful book by Sidney Lumet called Making Movies, and I just finished a chapter on actors, in which there is a section where he described some actors who believe so strongly in the material of a film that they will do whatever it takes to get the movie made. Many actors have taken salaries far below their usually asking prices in order to participate in a movie about which they felt very strongly, and Iris is one of those movies, although I don't know whether or not any of the actors took smaller salaries than they deserved. There is a short documentary on the DVD called 'A Look at Iris' in which the cast and crew talk about the movie, and it is clear how strongly they feel about the film. Kate Winslet nails it on the head in one clip, where she says that she knows that people who knew the real Iris Murdock would see the movie, so it was all the more important that she get the character exactly right. I love that.
In Iris's own words, "If one doesn't have words how does one think?" That's exactly the question that this movie so touchingly explores. It is about people loving and then losing each other with torturous slowness, in one of the most moving and important films of 2001.
Iris Murdock was an author and a shining light within the literary
in England. As an older woman she holds the same enthusiasm but is
gradually being given over to the effects of Alzheimers. Her husband,
tries to cope watching his wife slip away while he remembers how things
when they were young and falling in love.
I knew of this film due to Broadbent rightly taking the Oscar for it (with an exclamation of `stone the crows!') but I noticed it wasn't really in the running for anything else and never got round to seeing it. Seeing it now I am in two minds as to whether it works or not - I think it depends on what you take the film's aim to be. As a story about Iris herself I didn't think it really worked. It told me very little about her and didn't give me much to work with in regards her character or her relations when she was younger. We are given images and scenes from Iris and John's youth but I never felt that I ever really connected with who they were at that young age. The stuff with them as an elderly couple works well but again it could have been any elderly couple and it made no difference to me that Iris was a writer or any woman.
What works excellent is the portrait of an elderly couple struggling with the effects of Alzheimer's on their lives - hers as a sufferer and his as one watching his wife vanish day by day. I was very moved by all of that side of the film and found some of it very hard to watch. Most of this is due to Broadbent and it is this that he won his Oscar for. I felt his pain throughout the film and it was intense considering what a normal cheerful old man he played. Dench is excellent and her portrayal of Iris is very strong in terms of being an Alzheimers sufferer but not so much as a character I'm meant to learn about. The playing of both Winslet and Bonneville is good but I came away with the feeling that they were just assigned to do impressions of their senior co-stars; they don't manage to shed light on the past very much but they are good background.
Overall this film is not great if you are expecting to learn about Iris the author. However a film about Alzheimers it excels and is well worth seeing. Broadbent is wonderful and deserved his Oscar - his pain and his loss is so very real throughout the film that it is impossible not to feel something even if the film doesn't manage to do great development with the characters.
This episodic story of Iris Murdoch, best selling novelist, and her husband
John Bayley, is not for the faint-hearted. There are no illusions here, and
those that seem to exist are shattered by grim reality.
The film pulls no punches, showing Iris as a self-absorbed, stream-of-consciousness woman who becomes ill with Alzheimer's disease. Her husband, in sickness and in health, seems to always be a step behind her. However, he is enthralled with her - totally devoted and ultimately alone.
Yet, this portrait is beautiful and episodic, filled with symbolism, wonderful flashbacks, and the threads of a relationship built and undone. The four leads are just wonderful, with Jim Broadbent deservedly receiving an Oscar for his performance. Superb cinematography, editing, and direction support the actors and the great script.
Highly recommended. I give it 9 out of 10.
"Iris" tells of British novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband as they struggle together with her Alzheimer's affliction. The couple is portrayed in youth by Winslet and Bonneville and in old age by Dench and Broadbent with all delivering sterling performances. The plaintive and wistful story is told through interleaving scenes of the older couple's struggle with moments from the younger couple's life. As far as it goes, the film is an excellent product. What it doesn't deliver, however, is a deep sense of Murdoch, her philosophies and complexities of thought thereby giving greater depth to the character and a sense of the significance of what she is losing. In short, the film dwells too much on the disease and too little on the woman. Recommended for more mature viewers (B+)
"Iris" is an intense character-study that is full of bravura performances, but is also a film that struggles for greatness and never quite reaches the mark. Iris Murdoch was a great English novelist, arguably the greatest of her time, but Alzheimer's would strike the writer and eventually take away everything needed to continue her literary work. The film splits in two between Murdoch's early life (played by Oscar-nominee Kate Winslet) and her latter life (Oscar-nominee Judi Dench). What we see is Murdoch's relationship with her true love and future-husband John Bayley (Hugh Bonneville in the early sequences and Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent in the latter stages). "Iris" struggles as it goes back and forth between the early years and the latter years of Murdoch's life. This makes the film like a jumping-jack that just does not know when to quit. The film is not complimentary to Murdoch in her early years as she is shown as a teasing bi-sexual who basically uses men and women for her own personal gain. She is also shown as a somewhat cruel person who intentionally and unintentionally hurts those closest to her. Dench, on the other hand, plays Murdoch as a woman slowly losing control of those things most important to her. There are definitely flashes and similarities between the four actors who play the two characters flawlessly. Broadbent is best, but his Oscar win is not dominant by any stretch of the imagination. The film also looks somewhat cheap and rushed at times. It is just so British and the production values are not near as high as they really should have been. However, the film does show the Alzheimer's Disease in a very accurate way. Those who have seen it firsthand (I have) will find the film very difficult to get through because the research done for the movie is second-to-none. Those who are not familiar with the disease will find the film intriguing and interesting. "Iris" is a fine effort and the performances save the day on more than one occasion, but overall the film is not quite what the film-makers had hoped it would be by the final act. 4 stars out of 5.
This movie has an all-star cast -- Judi Dench as Iris Murdoch, Jim Broadbent
as her husband, John Bayley, Kate Winslet as the young Iris Murdoch, and
Hugh Bonneville as the young John Bayley. The actors have physical
appearances that makes it easy to believe we are seeing the same characters
young and old. The editing is interesting, often cutting back and forth
between the young and old characters within a scene.
I am not familiar with any of her works, but I have learned that Iris Murdoch was a very fine and prolific writer. She loved the language, and had a very unconventional outlook on life. This film seems to be more about her onset of Alzheimer's and her husband's trying to deal with it, rather than a story about Iris and how she came to be who she was. The story they chose not to explore I believe would have made a more interesting movie. For me Kate Winslet was the real star of the film, playing the younger Iris, and I came away wishing the film had spent much more time on her story. While the later Alzheimer years are important and interesting, too much of the film dwelled on these latter years.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Director and Screenwriter of Iris, Richard Eyre, states during the
special features DVD Commentary that one cannot understand the enormity
of the loss to Alzheimer's of the protagonist, novelist Iris Murdoch,
without appreciating what was lost. So he divides the story of Iris
into the present day narrative of her deterioration due to Alzheimer's
and flashbacks to the courtship and eventual marriage of the younger
Iris (played by Kate Winslet) to Professor John Bayley back in the
1950s. The young Bayley is played by Hugh Bonneville who bears a
striking resemblance to Jim Broadbent, who plays the elderly Bayley
opposite Judi Dench as the now afflicted elderly Iris.
Because Eyre approaches Murdoch as a virtual seminal figure in the history of world literature, the flashback scenes add up to nothing much more than a hagiography. While the contrast between the two personalities, the mercurial, flirtatious Iris and bookish academician Baley should lead to some gripping tension, in the end there is scant conflict between the two. Yes, Iris's voluminous affairs are alluded to and there is one scene where she and Bayley have a protracted argument regarding those affairs, in the end however, there is little we learn that is interesting about the earlier relationship. While Eyre has the benefit of Bayley's recent recollections concerning the extent and scope of Iris's deterioration, the flashbacks are obviously based on distant memories of the relationship. In short, I don't believe that Eyre has made his case that there was a great 'loss' based on his portrait of the early Iris. As a young woman she flirted and had affairs with other men; eventually she matured and was a nurturing presence in not-so-confident John Bayley's life. Eyre's flashbacks are photographed quite nicely and the setting evokes the bygone era of the 50s. But I still want to know what is so special about Iris Murdoch. I might find that out reading her books, but it certainly is not conveyed here in this film.
Eyre is on much more solid in ground the retelling of Murdoch's decline in more recent times. Judi Dench is excellent (as usual) as a woman who gradually deteriorates due to the ravages of Alzheimer's. The decline is subtle at the beginning as we see Dench struggle with language. Later, in a memorable scene, she is unable to recall the name of the then current British Prime Minister, Tony Blair (but remembers it later). When her novel arrives in the mail, she shows no awareness that she's the author and is more perturbed by the presence of the mailman ("it's only the postman"). More harrowing scenes follow: as she deteriorates further, she wanders out of the house, only to be found hours later by a former friend who attended their wedding (and who Bayley fails to recognize!); upon being told of the death of a close friend, Iris freaks out, grabs the wheel of the car Bayley is driving which results in an accidentshe's thrown from the car but ends up lying in the woods on the side of the road, virtually uninjured.
Jim Broadbent received the best supporting Oscar for his performance in Iris and it's well deserved. At first Bayley is in denial about Iris's condition. He continues to treat her as if she's normal. In a classic study of the stages of grief, Bayley (a suppressed character to begin with) finally lets out his frustration and anger as Iris's condition takes a turn for the worse. Eventually there's acceptance, despite Iris's complete loss of memory. At the end, Bayley is forced to put Iris in a home but is right there with her as she passes on.
Iris is a graceful and beautifully photographed film. While the examination of Iris and John Baley's early relationship is superficial, the chronicle of Iris's sad decline is a textbook study of what happens to people when they end up afflicted with Alzheimer's. What's more, Broadbent and Dench, convey the intimate bond between the two characters despite the overwhelmingly trying circumstances.
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