My good friend Ryan has been having trouble with his Live Journal account recently and asked if I would upload this review for him. So without further delay…We Present…..
Summer Film Challenge Report #8: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Date: 25 July 2011
By Ryan Lagerstrom
This is one of the few movies where all the individual parts, from the writing and the acting to the direction and the filmmaking are all phenomenal and yet one never eclipses the others. They all build each other up to make a fantastic movie. The movie is based on a famous stage play of the same name, and you can very much tell it’s based on a play. While that sometimes spells death for a movie, director Mike Nichols is able to make the film visually stimulating by keeping the camera moving and filming in rich blacks-and-whites, so even when the shot is static, it’s still beautiful to look at..
I really don’t have much to say about this film in a general sense except to say go see it. It’s a great movie that features some of the greatest American actors giving the performances of their careers, and it paints a very powerful portrait of a married couple trying their best to destroy each other, yet pretend that there’s nothing wrong. (It’s like Revolutionary Road, except less suicidally depressing). This is a movie that has so many layers to dissect and I can’t wait to see it again so I can properly dig in to it, because it’s definitely one of those movies. The next section will have spoilers.
The thing that I really want to address in this review is the title and how it relates to the relationship between George and Martha (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) and, more specifically, their imaginary son. My friend Tyler had questions about this particular issue and here are my thoughts on it.
The title “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is a reference to an old Disney short, The Three Little Pigs, which had a song called “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” as well as a reference to the well-known author Virginia Woolf. As I did some research into the play and the film, I found a quote from the playwright, Edward Albee, explaining how he came up with the title:
I was in [a saloon] having a beer one night, and I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” scrawled in soap, I suppose, on this mirror. When I started to write the play it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf means who’s afraid of the big bad wolf . . . who’s afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical, university intellectual joke.
The way I understand it, there is no specific reason why Virginia Woolf is included in the title (I mean, besides the fact that it happens to rhyme with “Big Bad Wolf”), just that a university intellectual would find it funny.. As to the meaning of the title itself, it directly correlates to the imaginary son that George and Martha have concocted. Their marriage had disintegrated to a point where they not only had to pretend to other people that they had a normal marriage, they also had to pretend to themselves. Throughout the film, there is constant questioning about what is true about a person (or persons) and what is illusion. This contrast is played up between the two couples. While the majority of what George and Martha reveal about themselves is illusion (George’s “friend” who killed his parents), Nick and Honey tend to reveal what is true about themselves (Honey’s “hysterical pregnancy”). The breaking point for George comes when he is faced with the fact that Martha is unfaithful. When his illusion is torn away from him, out of spite and jealousy, he must tear hers away as well. In her case, it’s the illusion that she has a son. By the end of the film, they are faced with the fact that each other’s truths are fully exposed to each other. There are no more illusions, and as the title asks “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (or as Albee says, who’s afraid of living life without false illusions) Martha replies that she is.