The Wife (2018) is a tale of a woman who contributes significantly to her husband’s ascension to the apex of success. More importantly, the story is about the transformation of a self-effacing spouse to a woman of substance, writes Fahmida Mehreen
THE Wife is a movie of drama genre, based on the book The Wife by Meg Wolitzer. Released in 2018, Björn Runge directed the movie. It got rave reviews from all across the globe, with an 86 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.2/10 on IMDb. It had earned awards like Golden Globe Award 2019 for best actress, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards 2019 for best actress and Independent Spirit Award 2019 for best female lead. The most acclaimed character of the movie is Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) who depicted the role of the wife.
The movie demonstrates the life of a popular novelist, Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) who gets nominated for the Nobel Prize. The news of the nomination gives rise to a huge hype from the media and from family and peers. Joe and Joan are parents of two children — a daughter and a son. Their son, David Castleman (Max Irons) is an aspiring writer as well, who puts his best effort to get a pat on the back from his famous father.
Major parts of the movie has been shot in Stockholm, Sweden, after Joe and Joan goes to attend the Nobel Prize Ceremony accompanied by media folks, family and more.
Throughout the movie, we can see flashbacks from the past which build the plot on how Joe Castleman became what he is today. It demonstrates how his wife, who is now in-charge of his wardrobe, food, medicine, and so on, actually contributed to his tremendous success.
She, as his wife, lives a very humble and modest life, supporting her husband through the thick and thins. She takes care of every little need of his. They share an amazing dynamic which has kept a healthy and perfect marriage for them for more than thirty years with children and grandchild on the way.
Yet, amidst this perfect marriage, lies countless brutal realities which are unknown to the world. In the motion of chasing success, the remarkable role played by Joan in Joe’s life as a novelist gets unacknowledged even by Mr Castleman himself.
He takes her effort and devotion for granted. Despite the deep love which the two shared, there seemed to remain a hollow in the part of Joan. She never expressed her despair or complained about not being accredited enough; rather she would tell her husband to keep it low every time he gave her credit in public speeches for having his back and for believing in him.
However, the time in Stockholm gave them both some reasons and space to reflect upon their life, relationship, and accomplishments. And this is when Joan, while standing on a very vulnerable axis of life, realises for the first time in many years that her commitment and perseverance has been undermined, and never rightly recognised.
Joan and Joe were close acquaintances back from the time when Joan was studying literature in Smith College under the supervision of her passionate professor Mr Castleman, who was then married and was father of a daughter.
Their bond grew stronger over words and literary works which were written by Joan and reviewed by her professor. In the process, they developed feelings of love for each other and eventually got united as a married couple. Joe divorced his former wife and got separated from his first born.
Here comes one of the most striking parts of the movie, the role played by young Joan by Annie Starke, is the actual daughter of Glenn Close. The performance pulled off by Annie Starke cannot go without being praised. She has perfectly showcased the personality of young Joan which has changed over time, from an enthusiastic writer to a good housewife of a celebrated novelist.
This is because in the course of time, young Joan realised that world of literature is chauvinistic and it will be a really tough battle for her to fight if she had to make her place as a distinguished writer. Thus, she decides to give up on it. As time passed by, Joan’s name from the world of literature and writing disappeared. But her passive and veiled contribution in making Joe a better writer continued without anyone getting a hunch.
On top of all these, comes another phenomenal character, Nathanial Bone (played by Christian Slater), who expresses his utmost interest to write a biography of Joe Castleman, with the intention of highlighting Joan’s role in Joe’s life. To this prospect, both Joe and Joan kept giving pessimistic response and were trying to repel him from writing the biography.
However, at one point in the movie, Bone persuades Joan to have a drink with him in a nearby bar. Over drinks, they spent hours, and involuntarily Joan gave out details of their past, regarding which she later clearly instructs Bone not to be manipulative to write his desired biographical piece on Joe.
Towards the end of the movie, a prominent change in Joan could be seen. She could no longer bear the agony of living her life as a failed author while giving the best of her to her husband, whose works earned him fame, recognition and money. In a conversation with another Nobel Prize Laureate, the fact that Joe unintentionally yet insensitively says — my wife does not write — affects Joan terribly.
During the whole event of Nobel Prize Ceremony, Joan was lost in her own thoughts, contemplating with watery eyes as Joe stood on the dais to give his intense winning speech. As Joe went on expressing his gratitude towards his wife, Joan felt a sensation of agony which she no longer could hide behind a wry smile. And thereafter, this leads to a moment of ultimate confrontation and an unfussy triumph. With the chronology of events, the Swedish director has kept a perfect balance of bliss and melancholy throughout the film, keeping it fairly vibrant.
While watching the film, it is a great pleasure to see the transformations in characters, subject to changing circumstances. While Joe remains the narcissist himself, Joan’s powerful change from self-effacing spouse to a woman of substance is worth watching.
The movie entwines the story of an unswerving love story blended with compromises, enigmas, infidelities, and commitment of togetherness. Regardless of her frustration and vent out, at the end of all (I will not give away the ending as a spoiler), Joan stays steadfast on her loyalty towards her husband and makes sure that no bad impression or propaganda in regards to Joe’s career as a acclaimed novelist becomes questionable.
I believe such kind of love is hard to find these days. The movie also shows the importance of family affairs and the role of a mother in children’s life. Joan’s character not only portrays the role of a virtuous wife, but also the character of an ideal mother.
As the old saying goes, ‘behind every successful man, there is a woman’, the movie in true sense depicts how many female characters, particularly wives, even in real lives, have a crucial role behind the sky-high success of most men, standing proudly and holding their achievements before the world.
It is my suggestion that every married couple should watch this movie together and embrace each other for every little contribution they make for the betterment of their conjugal life.
Fahmida Mehreen is a young writer.
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