Richard Eyre's IRIS tells a true story, both devastating and joyous, about the
life and decline of Iris Murdoch, the acclaimed English novelist and
philosopher. "Nothing matters except loving what is good," she tells us in a
thought that sums up her vision of the world. This great intellect is struck
down by Alzheimer's, eventually rendering her a fan of Teletubbies and a danger
to herself. But, before we get to the tragic conclusion, we celebrate her life
using seamless editing that cuts back and forth between Iris as a young novelist
and as an older, famous writer. We also witness the love and support of her
husband, John Bayley, a scholar and a professor who was happy just to bask in
The film's exquisite casting includes Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville as the
younger Iris and John and Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent as the older pair.
Deservingly so, all, except Bonneville, are nominated for Academy Awards. Each
of the four gives flawless performances. Bonneville looks so much like
Broadbent that you'll swear that he must Broadbent's son.
Iris possessed not only a great mind but also a very free spirit. An
unflappable extrovert, she couldn't be fazed even by a tumble down the stairs at
a fancy dress party. She just bursts into giggles when she reaches the bottom.
In contrast, John, who acts like a kid who is accidentally let free in a candy
shop, is an awkward stutterer. He can hardly believe that she likes him. The
chemistry between the actors at both ages is touching and honest. The film also
contains more floating naked breasts than in a Playboy video. In order to
express her freedom, the director keeps cutting back to underwater sequences of
Winslet. It seems that, all their lives, Iris and John loved nothing better
than swimming in the local river.
IRIS does one of the best jobs I've seen of presenting the whole of one's life,
while focusing on only two portions of it. The film's incredible last act spoke
to me directly as if it weren't a movie at all but loved ones whom I was
witnessing going through the emotional upheaval of Alzheimer's. By the end, I
was an emotional wreck.
IRIS runs 1:30. It is rated R for "sexuality/nudity and some language" and
would be acceptable for older teenagers.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes