I had not heard of author, Iris Murdoch, before watching the movie about her life. It came in them mail a few days ago. I had been prompted to put it on my Netflix list because of the description, "Iris Murdoch was l'enfant terrible of the literary world in early 1950's Britain, a live wire who tumbed her nose at conformity via a voracious and scandalous sexual appetite. " Well, the movie wasn't all that scandalous, I must say, but it was amazing. Author of 26 novels, philosopher, playwright and free-thinker, Iris lived a fascinating life. The movie, "Iris" was based on a book written about her by her husband, John Bayley, entitled, Elegy for Iris. What a love story. What heartbreak. Iris Murdoch died in 1999, after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for five years. The woman who's entire life revolved around words, lost all of them in the end.
"You love words, don't you?" , asked John. "Well, if one doesn't have words, how does one think?", she replied.
The movie stars Judi Dench and Kate Winslet as the older/younger versions of Iris. The movie is rated "R", because of some nudity and profanity, but I would recommend it to any of my adult friends. Grab a box of tissues, however, especially if you have been touched by Alzheimer's in your own life. (My darling Grandpa suffered from it in his latter years. To this day, my memories are tainted by the horror of seeing someone who used to be so vibrant, reduced to confused silence.)
Iris believed very strongly in what was good; what love was. I tend to be drawn to movies in which the main characters' houses are overflowing with books. This one might take the cake in that respect. John Bailey, her husband, wrote numerous books as well.
Iris was a free spirit, who believed in being herself. In the movie at a dinner party she says:
"Yes, of course there's something fishy about describing one's feelings. You try hard to be accurate, but as soon as you start to define such and such a feeling, language lets you down. It's really a machine for making falsehoods. When we really speak the truth, words are insufficient. Almost everything except things like, 'pass the gravy' is a lie of some sort and that being the case, I shall shut up . . . Oh, and pass the gravy.'"
And in an interview:
"People, of course, are very secretive. And, for many reasons, want to appear what we call ordinary. Everybody has thoughs they want to conceal. Perhaps even quite simple aspects of their lives. People have obsessions and fears and passions which they don't admit to. I think any character is interesting and has extremes. It's the novelists' privilege to see how odd everyone is."
The movie is beautifully done. It flows back and forth in time. There are many subtle cues and undertones. Iris sitting at her desk, surrounded by crumpled papers as she struggles to write her last novel, John watching her concernedly from the bedroom intermingles with a younger John, who sees her with a lover, as he peeks through the doorway at their lovemaking. Iris stating that she will write and write as long as she can still find words, and John turning on the light as he states that he shall keep her at it.
I watched it two times in as many days and was extremely touched by the love shared between Iris and John. Iris was like a star and John orbited around her. Even after being married for ages, he doted on her and admired her. "I feel as if I am sailing into darkness", says Iris as she noticed that the words were becoming harder to come by. Her brain scan shows the holes where the disease has eaten away the cells. The image reminded me of a death head moth. Words meant everything to her and she eventually lost them. "It frightens me, and then sometimes it doesn't frighten me, and that's just as bad, because that's it winning, isn't it?" says Iris about Alzheimer's.
"Education does not make you happy, and nor does freedom. We don't become happy just because we are free, if we are, or because we have been educated, if we have, but because education may be the means by which we realize we are happy. It opens our eyes, our ears, tells us where delights are lurking . . . convinces us that there is only one freedom of any importance whatsoever--that of the mind--and gives us the assurance, the confidence, to walk the path of our mind--our educated mind--offers.'
"Her novels embraced freedom and what it meant to be good", stated an interviewer. I would like to check them out for myself. I perused the online catalogues of the three local library systems I own cards to, but they didn't have anything on audio, my preference these days. That's ok. I'm still into grabbing a book and falling into it. She's written quite a few. I'll give them a go and see what I think. In the meantime, I highly recommend watching, "Iris". Just don't forget the tissues.
|John Bayley and Iris Murdoch|