By Tracy Wang
A film that is largely discussing a wife who stops her own writing career in order to be a ‘king-maker’, ‘The Wife’ is understandably difficult to watch at times, because of its constant reminder of a woman whose life is much-altered by the age she lives in.
Directed by Björn Runge and based on Meg Wolitzer’s novel of the same name, ‘The Wife’ weaves the past and the present together, and presents us with a long and seemingly happy marriage. It was 1958, and Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) was only a creative writing student who had the dream to become a writer. A young female student who had talent, Joan fell for Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), her handsome teacher who loves to recite famous writers’ words and who was married at the time.
It is now 1992, and the couple has just learned of Joe’s winning of the Nobel Prize in literature. A famous author by now, Joe is excited to embark on the journey to Stockholm to receive his Prize, but Joan is growing more and more frustrated and unsettled toward this whole awarding business. As the awarding ceremony draws closer, Joan is drifting away from Joe, and in a turn of event, the biggest secret/lie is revealed to us, but will Joan ever have the opportunity to achieve her dream after so many years?
As the title of the film suggests, Close’s portrayal of Joan Castleman is at the center of the film. A mother, a wife, a grandmother and most importantly, a king-maker, Joan is an aspiring woman who was being beaten down by society and societal beliefs of a woman writer not worthy to stand on the same podium as their male counterparts. Close elegantly brings about a Joan who is charming but mysterious; we all so easily buy into how natural she takes care of Joe, and how a smile is always ready at her lips that we quickly discard any sense of discontentedness that is ever so slightly shown in the way she moves and in her eyes.
From the very first scene of the film, we are already being given the core of their relationship in which the husband is the king, and the wife tends to the king’s every need. As the film progresses, we encounter more and more little plot points where all the wife does is to take care of the husband (from reminding him when to eat a certain pill to telling him there is a crumb of food in his mustache). Deeply unsettling and disturbing for audiences in this age when family dynamics and sexism are very much talked-about, we are at times uncomfortable because of the reminder of how the family structure was like.
As the film comes to an end, and the big secret is out, we are left in a kind of limbo, because we are trying to process everything we’ve just learned. The revealing of the secret makes Joan rise even higher than before, but we are also forced again to contemplate the unfortunate fates of so many talented female writers during that time period.
‘The Wife’ is abound of beauty because of its aesthetic in actor performances, but the story it narrates and discusses will surely unsettle many audiences, and even though we’ve seen many similar topics being discussed previously, we cannot take our eyes away from the ultimate phoenix who should have risen long ago by the ever masterful Close.