The Wife, a Film Review

It is never too late for a woman to achieve liberation.

Posted Sep 03, 2018

Female Liberation: A Film Review of The Wife

IMDbPro
The Wife
Source: IMDbPro

by Lloyd I Sederer, MD

It is never too late, we witness, for a woman to cast off decades of subservience, the pretense of wellbeing, and suffering.

It is not too late for Joan Castleman (Glenn Close), wife of a newly crowned Nobel Laureate in literature, Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), to emerge from her psychological imprisonment, principally as a willing inmate. The timing for her liberation is pitch perfect, if deeply disruptive and catastrophic; for it happens at the very moment her husband receives the Nobel. She has had enough, cannot continue to maintain the fiction that she is the handmaiden, when in fact he is – in all his narcissistic bombast. He is a literary fraud, which she had enabled, until she could no longer.

In about her 60s, with two adult children (and a new grandchild), Joan wears her age well but she is no ingénue, not a youth braving to release herself from her own shame and fraud. She is a veteran of the sexist war about to release herself from her captivity. Even her children do not know the hoax she has perpetrated, though her son is starting to get the picture. Her endurance as the shadow of her husband is a testimony to her masochism, but why cut the chains now? And why did she first marry this man, and shackle herself in the process?

Certainly, the world stage of Swedish Nobel grandeur shines a bright light on a life-long lie. And her son, David (Max Irons), an aspiring writer, sees beyond her act and cannot brook his father’s arrogance and mean-spiritedness. And an unctuous writer, Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), seeking to nail the job of writing the biography of the Laureate, has unearthed evidence that Joan has been ghosting her husband’s books from the very start.

The walls are closing in on Joan, but that alone is not sufficient to free her. She had entered this enduring fiction because of her own view (from working in publishing) that a woman’s ideas don’t get read, don’t sell, like those of a man. Her solution was not to write with a nom de plume, but to advance her Jewish professor husband, the type of 1960s prototype that publishers sought. Like a dam whose walls have weakened from years of eroding forces, she finally springs a leak. Then the emotional flood begins. Ironically, it is her husband’s odious behavior, at the time of his apparent triumph, that finally causes her fortified life to burst, and catalyzes her release. At a moment towards the end of the film, Joe asks why she married him in the first place? She is still perplexed but that does not keep her from acting.

The novel from which the film was taken was written by Meg Wolitzer, and the screenplay by Jane Anderson. A woman’s story told by women. Who better? Women authors who, now, stand a better chance to compete in a fierce literary world, and to achieve the pride and recognition due them from the artistic expression of their prose.

Glenn Close is amazing in the role of the able but stifled wife of a narcissist, which calls for such stillness and restraint, and conveying no longer bearable psychic pain. Yet she is still able to project convincing proof that in her lies the capacity to become the woman and writer she had long hidden from the world, as well as herself. When asked about what she “does” at the Nobel dinner party, she smiles and says she is a “king maker”.

There is no cheering, however, when the truth is released, if only to her family, in order for her to become the person she had laboriously earned the right to be. That’s because it comes at a great price, which for spoiler reasons, I won’t supply here. Suffice to say that Joan Castleman will not be ghosting any more books, but rather facing up to the blank page that begins her new life and her next book.

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Dr. Lloyd Sederer is a psychiatrist, public health doctor and medical journalist. His new book is The Addiction Solution: Treating Our Dependence on Opioids and Other Drugs (Scribner, 2018).