Archive | Feminist Matters

Her ‘Theory of Everything’

“The Theory of Everything” is adapted from a very thick book that Stephen Hawking’s first wife, Jane Wilde Hawking, wrote about their relationship. The degree to which this film is any good – and the first half is very good – is not due to its source material, however. In fact, that this film succeeds at all is a miracle – if not a miracle on the scale of, say, Mr. Hawking’s accomplishments as a theoretical physicist and author. The truth is: The former Ms. Wilde’s memoir is a slog.

It is surprising that the first feature film biopic about Stephen Hawking focuses on the perspective of his former wife. (There already have been many documentaries about the acclaimed cosmologist as well as the TV movie “Hawking,” which starred smart-boy dreamboat Benedict Cumberbatch.) Based on his television commentary and writings, Mr. Hawking’s charisma and insight would enliven any account of his already-fascinating achievements but his discoveries are not what “The Theory of Everything” addresses. Rather, it hones in on the mind-body split that defines us all: the prosaic confinements of our physicalities (even when we’re not severely disabled) contrasted with the transcendence of our intellect and imagination. There may be no better lens through which to examine this split than marriage, which is a mystery so vast that not even the now-twice-divorced Hawking has been able to crack it. Continue Reading →

A 21st Century Joan of Arc

Has there ever been a better young heroine than Joan of Arc? A peasant girl raised in the French countryside, she received divine guidance from an early age. By the time she was a teenager, she heeded those visions and traveled, in male dress, to the Hundred Years War to protect France from England, which she achieved mightily until her capture at age eighteen. By age nineteen, she was tried by English officials who sentenced her to burn at the stake – although not before she delivered such ringing testimony that it has resonated through the centuries. Twenty-five years later, Pope Callixtus III debunked the charges against her and declared her St. Joan.

Okay. A woman hearing voices who died violently at age nineteen may not sound like the most modern of role models. This may explain why, as much as it pains me to say it, our Joan has fallen out of favor in recent years. Ever since her 1431 death, she has inspired legions of philosophers, artists, and historians but recently St. Joan’s legend has been given a bit of breathing room – perhaps more than is required. Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured seeks to rectify this.

It is written by Kathryn Harrison (The KissEnvy), who has made it her business in both fiction and nonfiction to demystify myths (including that of her own father) without stripping them of their poetry. Part hagiography, part straight-up biography, her portrait of Joan weaves folklore, artistic representations, and centuries of scholarly and critical analysis into a more personalized interpretation of the young female warrior-savant. Harrison’s take emphasizes Joan’s bravery, clarity of thought and speech, and beautiful conviction. Continue Reading →

Love and Memory: ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’

I’d always suspected I would swoon over “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1959). It is directed by Alain Resnais, who was riding high on the French New Wave. It is written by Marguerite Duras, the French symbolic novelist widely acclaimed as a landmark feminist even if she never identified as one. It is the screen debut of Emmanuelle Riva, who was nominated for a 2012 Oscar for her harrowing performance in “Amour.” But because I thought streaming this classic on a small screen would be like eating caviar on a hamburger bun, I stayed away. Now, fifty-five years after its initial release, Rialto Pictures has acquired the U.S. distribution rights. It turns out seeing “Hiroshima Mon Amour” on a big screen is a revelation worth the wait.

It begins with two voices murmuring over images of the aftermath of the Hiroshima atomic bombings. The female describes what she remembers of the disaster; the male denies her reality: You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing. Because we are seeing images that support her memories, we are inclined to believe her, especially as the photographs of burnt, mutilated bodies, buildings, and fields are intercut with close-ups of two naked bodies, artfully arranged, artfully entwined. It seems obvious, or at least predictable: The woman’s reality is being undercut by her domineering male lover. As the two continue their back-and-forth – I saw this/ No, you did not – we begin to be lulled by the rhythm of conversation and imagery, as horrific as some of it is. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy