A review of  Iris” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: R for nudity, sexuality and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

 

 

Marvelous performances pepper this poignant drama about an enduring love caught in the painful vortex of Alzheimer’s Disease.

A snappy ballet of flashforwards and flashbacks recount the true-life story of English novelist Iris Murdoch, and her 40-year love affair with literary critic John Bayley.  Flashback: Iris (Kate Winslet) was an icon of her generation, a brilliant free-spirit whose novels and philosophy firmly established her as decades ahead of her time. Iris wrote of love and lust, good and evil, and the realities of being a bohemian bisexual at a time when it was considered the height of scandalous behavior.  Bayley (Hugh Bonneville) was thoroughly infatuated with the enigmatic Iris from their first meeting, and devoted his young life to their courtship and to capturing her attentions solely for himself.

Flashforward: twenty-six well-received novels and international acclaim was not enough.  Iris (Judi Dench) is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and rapidly descends into a mental jungle of confusion.  Bayley (Jim Broadbent) attempts to care for his beloved wife, a daunting task that nearly kills him with stress and fatigue.

“Iris” is everything a movie should be – tight, spare, and compelling. The details are stunning – a home that’s suffering from neglect, an affair that pervades the couples’ goodwill, and the subtle pain of watching a brilliant mind succumb to the ravages of mental dementia. 

Dench is absolutely extraordinary as a sharply witted woman who senses a loss of mental control and has precious little time to grieve for her intellect. Broadbent captures a more elusive combination of emotions – the sorrow of the loss of his life partner coupled with the guilty glee of having her to himself once and for all. As the young Iris, Winslet perfectly conveys Murdoch’s headstrong desire for individuality, and Bonneville is utterly convincing as a man in the throes of everlasting devotion.

Flashback:  a relationship is built on a foundation of adoration, jealousy, obsession, and passion.  Flashforward: the notion that love can be a timeless act of self-sacrificing heroism.