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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Where's IRIS?
by Betty Jo Tucker

I hope my insomnia goes away soon. Ever since seeing Iris, I have trouble sleeping at night. I can’t stop worrying about people with Alzheimer’s disease and the loved ones who suffer along with them. Powerful performances by Judi Dench as Iris Murdoch, a famous author who developed this illness, and Jim Broadbent as her longtime spouse remain in my thoughts in a most disturbing way. However, because I expected to learn more about Murdoch and her illustrious career from this movie, I’m also very disappointed.

Dame Iris Murdoch wrote 28 novels in 40 years, loved elegant language, taught philosophy, and preached, "There’s only one freedom of any consequence, that of the mind." It’s painful to watch Oscar-winner Dench’s (Shakespeare in Love) heart-rending portrayal of this prolific British novelist during the worst part of her life. I’m haunted by the film’s chilling focus on Murdoch’s descent into a world of her own. Scenes depicting Iris in a state of confusion over the simplest words or staring off into space, oblivious to a question asked during a television interview, are especially hard to take --- as is her lack of interest when the postman delivers a copy of her newly published book.

What was John Bayley, Murdoch’s husband, thinking when he allowed such a film to be made? Yes, I know this movie is based on the two books he wrote about his wife after she died, but that should be enough. Anyone who wants to join my newly formed SPCMM (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Murdoch’s Memory) and help organize an official protest, please contact me immediately.

More Bayley’s story than Murdoch’s, Iris chronicles his reactions to the drastic changes in his wife after she falls victim to Allzheimer’s disease. As the narrator, Bayley (portrayed magnificently by Broadbent, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this performance) also tells how he and Iris first met. Her physical and mental vitality attracted the shy stutterer immediately. In the role of young Iris, Kate Winslet (Quills) projects intelligence, wit, and independence --- just the characteristics I imagine Murdoch always admired. Playing Bayley’s younger self, Hugh Bonneville (High Heels and Low Lifes), the only one of these four actors not to receive an Oscar nomination for Iris, uncannily displays the imperfect speech and introverted mannerisms adopted by Broadbent as the older Bayley. Bonneville gives an endearing performance. My favorite scenes show him teasing Iris about her "snubby" nose and admitting to her that he’s a virgin --- right before they make love for the first time.

Throughout the movie, playful flashback sequences contrast dramatically with the couple’s later gloomy existence. Bayley still loves Iris, of course, but she’s lost to him. He can’t even tell her funny stories anymore. Finally, she’s gone completely. He mourns by writing Iris: A Memoir and Elegy for Iris.

Famous in his own right as a literary critic, Bayley didn’t do Iris any favor with these memoirs about her. I’m almost certain she would prefer being remembered for her many accomplishments. Too bad this film leaves out most of them.

(Released by Miramax Films and rated "R" for sexuality, nudity, and some language.)

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