Quick film review: The Wife

Warning: contains spoilers

A man receives the Nobel Prize for Literature, while in fact it’s his wife who is the real genius.  A terrific performance by Glenn Close, but essentially a straightforward story.  Or is it?  The first realization is that the real “wife” of the story is not in fact Glenn Close’s character, but Jonathan Pryce’s.  Through an agreement, Jonathan Pryce (Joe) becomes the editor in their partnership, while Glenn Close (Joan) is the actual writer.  At one point, Joan says to the biographer, played by Christian Slater, “Don’t paint me as a victim.  I’m much more interesting than that.”  The context of the story makes a feminist statement: if Joan publishes as a woman, her work will very likely end in obscurity.  By using her husband’s name and, possibly, ideas, her work goes on to win the Nobel Prize.  Would this have ever happened if she had written under her own name?  Probably not.  But what was the price?  The irony is that Joan chose this partnership.  If you look at the story from Joe’s perspective, while Joan is sitting at the typewriter in a closed room eight hours a day, he’s taking care of the kids, making dinner, doing laundry, etc.  He is also having affairs.  There are a couple of hilarious moments in the film when Jonathan Pryce sounds just like a stereotypical neglected housewife, including sharing a recipe with the king of Sweden.  Looking at the structure of the film, I was reminded of Macbeth, which I believe was intentional.  Joan, like Lady Macbeth, is ambitious, but knows she can never achieve the crown on her own.  So she puts her husband up to it and he goes along with the plan.  When, in the film, the king asks Joan what she does, she replies, “I’m a king maker.”  In the end, both Joan and Joe are doomed to fate, which was predetermined by their actions, turning the structure into a perfect tragedy.  Joe pays the ultimate price with his life, giving himself a heart attack.  Joan suffers the loss of the only person in the world who understands her.  In the end, all that lives on is the work itself, which is what Joan sacrificed everything for.  The screenplay is by Jane Anderson, a wonderful playwright.  I recently saw her play, Mother of the Maid, at the Public Theater, another pairing with Glenn Close, in a story about the mother of Joan of Arc.  I have not yet read the book that inspired the film by Meg Wolitzer, but there is clearly much more to The Wife than might seem at first glance.