I recently watched The Wife starring Glenn Close, and thought there were many interesting points of discussion.
The Wife opens by setting clear the premise of the whole film; that the husband has won the Nobel prize for literature. We begin to glean the complications that would arise as the camera gives us our first close-up of Joan’s face while her husband receives the news; it’s a distant, sad, almost glazed look that will permeate the film as we encounter numerous flashbacks.
As the plane takes the duo to receive the prize, dark clouds set the scene for a turbulent journey ahead. We immediately see this tension when Joan is being introduced to members of the Nobel Prize committee; her husband casts a questionable gaze onto his young, pretty photographer, but most crucially, we detect the potent simmer of emotions when Joan is claimed not to be a writer.
We slowly discover the ugly truth that fuels the ongoing tension that brews, thanks in large part to the tremendous performances of Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce, who reveal a particular bitterness in their expressions despite outward expressions of love.
This dark undertow of bitterness is given meat when journalist Nathaniel Bone paints a decidedly more crooked portrait than that of the ‘Great Man and Great Man’s Wife’ public persona of the two (also explaining Joe’s earlier brusque treatment of Nathaniel) – that Joan had in fact ghostwritten all of Joe’s great works. She was the one with the golden touch, but as a female author at her university said, ‘a writer needs to be read,’ and being female just meant a much harder time getting published.
Joan notably rebuffs him, and anyone, even her son, who leveled this accusation at her husband.
This is despite Joe’s infidelity, that is revealed throughout the film to be almost pathological, becoming the inspiration for many of Joan’s novels.
This tension builds all the way until the night of the ceremony itself, where Joan is finally unable to contain the pent of resentment of being unrecognized as a writer. Their bitterness for each other is laid bare in a cathartic, explosive scene where Joan finally, audibly declares to the audience that the books were written by her, that they were her words. Their altercation is interrupted by a call where they find out that they are grandparents, leading to a brief moment of true affection between the two. It is short-lived however, as Joe suffers from a fatal heart attack not long later, and we see absolute desolation on Joan’s face, a testament to how she had loved him after all, despite the secrets and betrayals.
In the after-light, Joan promises to tell those important to her – her son and daughter – the truth, while vehemently rejecting any form of public expose of her husband. This perhaps reflects how she’s decided that books were his stories, as they were inspired by his life, though written in her words. As the plane taking her home cruises into the light, we see her flip her notebook to a new page – a new start – and we can only surmise that she will crescendo into new life as a writer.
This film is very much anchored in the amazing performances of Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce, who detail the toll of their secret reality with searing restraint, expertly elevating the tension throughout the film towards the explosive finale. The plot and script were decent, but definitely elevated by the lead performances.