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"There is only one freedom that matters--that of the mind.",
This review is from: Iris [VHS]  (VHS Tape)
When author/philosopher Iris Murdoch utters these words, she has no way of knowing that Alzheimer's disease will soon rob her of that freedom, leaving her the frustrated shell of who and what she was. Author of twenty-six books and winner of both the Whitbread and the Booker Prizes, Iris, at the end of her life, was, according to her husband, like "A very nice three-year-old child." The love story of Iris Murdoch, a free-spirited, passionate lover of arts and ideas, and John Bayley, the shy, introverted man who was her anchor in life, dominates this film, celebrating her life, even as Alzheimer's disease robs it of its meaning.
Directed by Richard Eyre, who converted John Bayley's book, A Memoir and Elegy for Iris, into the screenplay, the film honors Iris, John Bayley, and the love that survived even Alzheimer's disease. Judi Dench not only looks like Iris Murdoch, but also endows her with fierce independence, a curiosity about the meaning of life, and a strong will, characteristics which served Iris well, even in her decline. Jim Broadbent, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, shows his love for her at the same time that he becomes enormously frustrated at his helplessness in dealing with her decline.
Alternating between present and past, director Eyre develops innumerable visual parallels, showing Murdoch as a wild young girl (passionately played by Kate Winslett), uninhibitedly exploring every aspect of life, with Dench repeating similar scenes (such as the swimming scenes) late in life. The young John Bayley (Hugh Bonneville) plays his role so close in style to Broadbent that except for the obvious age differences, they could well be the same person, both blushing on cue. These four brilliant actors are completely successful in merging time frames to create two complete characters.
The obvious symbolism and deliberate parallels between the early and late lives of Iris and John Bayley will not escape any viewer, making the sad changes in Iris's mind even more agonizing to watch, particularly for anyone who has faced Alzheimer's with a loved one. As Iris herself observes, "I feel as if I'm sailing into darkness." Beautifully filmed by Roger Pratt, the exteriors, including the water scenes, show the vastness of the world that Iris loved to explore, while the interiors show her claustrophobic confinement and the robbing of her soul. Not an easy film to watch, it is nevertheless a brilliant achievement celebrating the endurance of love, even in the face of Alzheimer's disease. Mary Whipple