Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Iris, or: I Don’t Want the World to See Me

Feminist February has been much more of an emotional roller coaster than anticipated. Though I regret nothing about our choice this month, I think Christa and I are both ready for the assault on our emotions to end.  Bring it on, as yet unnamed, eclectic March theme!

Not going to lie, this pick has mostly been on my radar forever almost entirely because of Judi Dench.

The Film:


The Premise:

Flashbacks reveal the life of Iris Murdoch as a young writer, free spirit, and teller of interesting stories at parties—in contrast to her struggle with Alzheimer’s during her final years.

The Uncondensed Version:

Our film opens with one of the recurring images of this film: Iris swimming, whether old, young, alone, with her husband. Which makes sense what with The Sea, The Sea, if that’s not too obvious. Also the seaside is a place throughout the film where Iris is free…yet seems to be searching for something in the murky waters.

A woman walks along a pebbly beach towards the ocean.
Keep calm and remember I was an English major if this gets unbearable.

Iris is obviously still full of spirit in her 70s, but she is beginning to forget things. As a young woman, she was charismatic, charming, and nearly impossible to keep up with (both literally and figuratively, as bicycling Hugh Bonneville could tell you).

A man and woman bicycle next to each other.
Did I mention Kate Winslet is in this too?  Kate Winslet is in this.

Much of the story revolves around the romance between loud, controversial Iris and shy, stammering professor John Bayley. He’s so fascinated by Iris and shyly tells her he’d like to read her novel and that he loves her nose. In contrast to Iris, John is quite sexually conservative and inexperienced, even asking her to marry him after they kiss once. John is super jealous and scandalized when he finds out Iris is banging both men and women on the side.

In the later storyline, Iris and John do normal couple-y things, like complaining about things in grocery stores and hanging out at their local pub. Unfortunately, she also becomes increasingly forgetful and puzzled. While doing an interview that reminded me a lot of a scene in Atonement (or maybe I’ve just got Atonement on the brain), Iris suddenly loses her train of thought and all comprehension of what’s going on. This leads to a memory test, brain scan, and a dementia diagnosis.

It gets so heartbreaking from here on out, as John tries to be patient while caring for Iris but is frequently frustrated. Also really difficult to type because when both Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent are crying, you can’t not fucking cry, and when they are both apologizing to each other, you can’t not fucking weep. Don’t make me think about the scene in which John reads Pride and Prejudice to Iris.

An elderly man sits on a sofa next to an elderly woman, his hand on her shoulder.
And I don’t even fucking like Pride and Prejudice!

Though this film is not driven by plot, I’d say it culminates with Iris wandering off one day, sending John into a panic.  And me and, by extension, Bertha Mason.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

An incredibly heart-wrenching film that is also quite horrifying. Our culture deals with aging really, really badly, and I’m not an exception. I dread this type of story, and I can’t think about this film without wanting to hit something and thinking about how unfair everyfuckingthing is.

It’s important that this film doesn’t flinch when tackling how hard it must be to deal with a loved one’s dementia, and it doesn’t pretend Iris Murdoch was an infallible human being. She was strong-willed and brilliant, but flawed.

So worth watching, but prepare yourself.  You will cry and you will get the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” stuck in your head, which will likely make you cry all over again.  I highly recommend tissues, chocolate, and a cat to accompany you.

There’s a funeral for a friend (love lies bleeding) in which John references a part in Anna Karenina where she thinks of something funny to tell her lover but realizes she can’t. John does the same thing. It was basically equally as sad as the funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and if W.H. Auden doesn’t make you fucking weep, I have serious reservations about your humanity.

I was just really glad I had a cat to hold throughout.

Is Christa still speaking to me after this incredibly masochistic pick?  Find out in her review here!