Version: 1973, starring Claire Bloom, Anthony Hopkins, Anna Massey
Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com:] A Doll’s House (1879), is a masterpiece of theatrical craft which, for the first time portrayed the tragic hypocrisy of Victorian middle class marriage on stage. The play ushered in a new social era and “exploded like a bomb into contemporary life”.
My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not be comparing it to that novel. Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.
CAUTION: This review is full of spoilers!
I think I decided to watch this film version of a classic stage play because I come across it on LibriVox, goodreads, and others’ book review blogs and I was curious as to what it was about. I had no idea who Ibsen even was.
At first it seemed to be a sweet little domestic story. Nora and Torvald Helmer seem to have a happy life together and all is going well. When I watched this, I didn’t have time to view it in one sitting, and so broke off about half an hour before the ending. I had some time to mull over the situation of the characters. I sort of had to puzzle over the way this married couple related to each other. Torvald treats his wife as though she were his fragile china doll, or a favorite daughter. But the sad thing is that Nora takes this role upon herself as well. Like a little child around a Santa Claus, she begs and teases, and timidly asks for little favors, even resorting to childlike ‘squirrel’ tricks to get her way. This type of marriage relationship felt familiar to me in that you often read husbands and wives relating to each other like this in the old classics of the 1800’s. I figured it was just more of the same.
Until the end. Wow. I didn’t see that coming! I found it highly interesting, even if I didn’t agree with the decisions of the characters. Let’s start with Anna Massey’s character, Mrs. Linde. I’m not sure this part of the story was fully fleshed out for me to understand, but I felt disappointed that this strong character ends up with such a weak, oily man. The whole thing smells of codependency to me. But, moving along…
Suddenly Torvald goes into such a fit that if words could slay a woman, he does just that. The only person he can think of is himself, and that is the only thing he has ever used his wife for… himself. So when he finds out Nora is in dire trouble, he panics that somehow this will all make him look bad. And then to think he could just smooth things over all of a sudden, as if nothing had ever happened. As though his wife had no feelings, could just compartmentalize it away and forget about it… It’s like a light switch goes on and she sees how their marriage has been built on nothing but sugar and now they’re mining the cavaties. It is a little startling for the viewer to be on this roller coaster ride. But it’s meant to be a shock, for her and for us. Times have changed, but human nature hasn’t. Not all men are like this, but there are still some men like Torvald who prefer their wives to be like child-like, for whatever twisted reasons of their own.
There certainly were things that needed changed for women during the 1800’s. Many have seen Nora’s final actions to have been Ibsen’s push for women’s liberation from man. Perhaps they are right; I wouldn’t know. It isn’t an ideology I would agree with. But there are some insightful observations Nora makes that are wise for us to ponder (and that make good quotes for the quote book!):
NORA:—What do you call my holiest duties?
HELMER:—Do you ask me that? Your duties to your husband and your children.
NORA:—I have other duties equally sacred.
HELMER:—Impossible! What duties do you mean?
NORA:—My duties towards myself.
HELMER:—Before all else you are a wife and a mother.
NORA:—That I no longer believe. I think that before all else I am a human being, just as much as you are—or at least I will try to become one.”
― Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House
I know I don’t agree with Nora’s decision to leave her family. It’s a pity Nora didn’t come to these realizations before she was married. But then, many people don’t even in this day and age. Those of us who are unmarried should sit up and take note of how important it is to use our single years as a time to develop ourselves in every way that we can. It makes us that much more of an intelligent human being for ourselves to start with. After that, it makes for more developed, intelligent relationships with other people, whether marriage relationships or otherwise.
It is interesting that Nora does liken Torvald to her father, who treated her much the same way. Women often choose husbands who remind them of their fathers, whether this be a good or bad thing. The way a father raises his daughter and interacts with her (or doesn’t) influences how she develops into an adult in so many ways. In Nora’s case, her father didn’t cultivate any sort of independent thinking in her when she was growing up and in so doing, her personality was stunted as an adult.
“Nora: It’s true Torvald. When I lived at home with Papa, he used to tell me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinion. If I thought differently, I had to hide it from him, or he wouldn’t have liked it. He called me his little doll, and he used to play with me just as I played with my dolls. Then I came to live in your house…. I mean when I passed out of Papa’s hands into yours. You arranged everything to suit your own tastes, and so I came to have the same tastes as yours.. or I pretended to. I’m not quite sure which.. perhaps it was a bit of both — sometimes one and sometimes the other. Now that I come to look at it, I’ve lived here like a pauper — simply from hand to mouth. I’ve lived by performing tricks for you, Torvald. That was how you wanted it. You and Papa have committed a grievous sin against me: it’s your fault that I’ve made nothing of my life.” ― Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House
When Nora realizes this, she starts to take action to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, I fear she has made the situation even worse by taking action in the wrong direction. She does not take thought for the affect her decision will have on her children. If we were to skip ahead 10 or 20 years, what will have become of her children? What sort of lives will they be leading stemming from the pain they suffered from Nora’s choices?
Even though the setting is during the Christmas season, this isn’t the film for you if you’re looking for a heartwarming holiday movie. But I did find it a very thought-provoking play with great acting by a well-chosen cast. Even if you don’t entirely agree with all the ideas in it, it doesn’t hurt the brain to be stretched a little!
What were your thoughts concerning this classic play?