A classic tale of a troubled marriage is explored to new depths in this masterfully crafted film ‘ The Wife ‘. A 50 something year old is eating sugar in the middle of the night, as his wife wakes up to put him back to bed, but not before she reluctantly agrees to his request for sex. Hours later they wake up to a phone call which informs them that the man, Mr. Joe Castleman has been selected for the Noble Prize for Literature. The Wife and the husband, jump on bed as they sing in jubilation ” I won a Noble ” .
A party is thrown, the Nobel prize winner is inundated with praise and his wife tends to him, picking crumbs from his beard and humbly accepting the praise he bestows upon her for being by his side while he wrote these masterful works of literature. As the couple boards the airplane to Sweden to attend the ceremony, we set off on a journey with them, that will reveal some deeply disturbing facts about this marriage. It is through sporadic flashbacks that we understand how Mr. Joe Castleman was actually a mediocre writer with bold ideas and that Mrs. Joan Castleman truly transformed his ideas into literary masterpieces. In a scene in the flashback Mrs. Joan rewrites his underwhelming work and submits it to a publisher who agrees to take matters forward. The couple, jump on the bed singing in jubilation, “We are getting published”. From ” ‘ We ‘ are getting published ” to ” ‘ I ‘ won a Noble ” the marriage has been fissured with guilt, envy, insecurity and infedility.
Joe Castleman has a son who aspires to be a great writer. David is a troubled young man, who strives to get some kind of positive attention from his father, about his writing. His father believes that David is ‘ finding his voice ‘ but David sees through his father’s facade and accuses him of being ashamed of his incompetency. In a scene Joe Castleman tells his son about the agony of writing and Joan who is sitting across, says, with a hint of sarcasm and remores ” Oh yes, Joe you have suffered enormously ” insinuating that he never had to go through the agony he is referring to, as all the writing was done by her in actuality.
The film is a poignant exploration of a marriage crumbling under the weight of accumulated Guilt and frustration. As the old couple goes around in the buildup to the ceremony, Joan is introduced as the wife to this Nobel prize winning Writer, whom she had taken care of and he loves dearly. He also announces with complete absence of hesitation that his wife does not write. These are the moments when Mrs. Castleman’s brimming vexation is brilliantly brought to screen by Glenn Close. The enormous acting talent she possesses seems to have found its way through her eyes. Her eyes project her agony and anger with such grace that you can’t take your eyes of this towering personality that is being sidelined by a husband, basking in the glory bestowed by his wife, the one with the ‘Golden touch’. In a lesser film, the character of Mr. Joe Castleman would have been a parasite, eating away at his wife’s gift to write but The Wife offers a more mature and empathic look at him, who is, otherwise, an apparent loser.
The Wife works as a social commentary on multiple levels. It offers an uncompromising look at marriage and its frailties. It tries to understand the excruciating pain art demands, to be crafted into something great. Also, it works as a Gender Politics Drama. Without ever deviating from its main premise, the film seamlessly incorporates all the above aspects lying beneath this story, showing, afterall it is the most basic of human emotions that are the roots of the social turmoil we encounter everyday. With its exquisite handling of marriage and art, the screenplay, willingly or otherwise draws a stunning parallel between Marriage and the art of writing.
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The film tells us that handling a Marriage is as artful as creating a literary masterpiece. Both these forms of art demand excruciating emotional pain and deeply hurtful sacrifices. There will be long stretches of distress and agony but it only takes a phone call from your daughter to inform you have become grand parents, to turn a remorseful old couple into elated childlike husband and wife, welcoming the new one into the world. The Wife is Brilliant.