Finally got around to Seeing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Netflix streaming and wow what a powerhouse. I had no reason to suspect it wouldn’t be — I believe I haven’t seen a Mike Nichols film I haven’t enjoyed. What was surprising was how up to date the film appears even though I know it’s history and context. In some ways it reminded me of a more recent Nichols production, “Closer”, in the way it deals with despicably human characters. Though the characters are vicious and mean to one another they are at the same time tremendously frail. “Closer” made me think that I was seeing a group of characters who kept misfiring, always one step behind one another. They were at the same time cold and calculating and simply desirous.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” offers a window into the same sort of world of miscommunication that “Closer” did, but rather than simply misunderstanding one another George and Martha perhaps know each other too well. They offer a window into a marriage that is both highly familiar and meaningful and at the same time on the verge of complete annihilation as characters are (at times quite literally) smothering each other.
The film (based upon a play of the same name) also has a lot to say about constructed-ness and storytelling. The dialog plays out in the form of games that the characters are inadvertently playing. Games where the rules are maleable from round to round and where there is no clear victor. It’s hard to say what is true in the stories the characters tell throughout the film but at the same time one wonders if it matters. It’s all a construction in the end, a play, a movie, a marriage. It doesn’t matter what is real and what is not. The point is the struggle, a bumpy, horrible, exhilarating and ultimately darkly funny struggle.