Movie Reviews
12:33 pm
Wed February 27, 2002

Iris

Why can't I learn about the artist's creative process in these films about artists?

"Iris" is not really about novelist/philosopher Iris Murdoch -— it is about her enduring romance with John Bayley and the degenerative effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Her words from the lecture podium are often aimed at the thematic core of the film: the need for love.

For those philosophical thoughts I could have watched for hours; for the shots of Kate Winslet as naked young Iris I could have watched 50 seconds; for the loss of Iris to the disease, 5 seconds is enough. I sat through Sean Penn's "I am Sam," so I have had ample exposure already this year to actors acting disabled.

Why can't I learn about the artist's creative process in these films about artists? At least "Pollock" last year tried to show the process taking shape out of the personality of the artist. I catch no conjunction of character and art in this film. When Iris says at a lecture, "There is only one freedom of any consequence: that of the mind," I was thrilled to find a thematic statement and promise of deeper thoughts to come. They didn’t arrive -- the splendid performances of Jim Broadbent and Judi Dench did however. Previously this year, only the romance of the elderly couple in "Innocence" can compare.

Yes, there is Jim Broadbent to savor here. As husband Bayley, he is close to the perfect embodiment of the Oxford don and doting husband: stuttering, hunched, sensitive, brainy, and eccentric. I loved him as bartender Col 10 years ago in "The Crying Game," and he fully merits the academy award nomination for playing Iris' long-suffering husband.

First-rate acting is what you will see in "Iris"; Iris Murdoch, alas, can be found only in her writing.