Posts Tagged ‘Orlando’

h1

Orlando

September 22, 2010

The 1992 film Orlando, based on the eponymous novel by Virginia Woolf, is playing at the Harris theater through the 23rd.

In the film, Orlando, at the time a young man and lover of the old queen, is told by Queen Elizabeth I to stay young forever. He does so, and, in the process, has a variety of the sort of intense and short lived relationships of a young man. As a man, Orlando feels that his passion for a woman is reason for him to possess her. The women in his life tend to disagree, leaving him heartbroken. He falls not only for women, but also for poetry. When he turns to poetry as an outlet for his youthful intensity, he discovers that his feelings, though intense and universal, are trite and laughable when translated into rhymes. There is a certain ennui associated with immortality, and a sense of endlessly waiting for the future, which is said to be brighter and grander than the base and tedious present.

Orlando as a manOrlando becomes an ambassador to Constantinople, and, despite the city’s intrigue and beauty, remains seemingly unphased, even when nearly killed in a conflagration. It is in Constantinople that, after sleeping for 11 days, Orlando wakes up as a woman. She takes this in stride, perhaps due to her having lived such an unnaturally long life already. Of course, the simple fact of being a woman changes her relationship with society. She is at risk of losing her home, an isolated castle in the British countryside, and is proposed to by men who claim that marrying them would be the best way to avoid insolvency and homelessness. At the time in history when she became a woman, it was illegal for a woman to own property, so marriage to a wealthy woman was a business opportunity for the men of her day.

Orlando as a womanOrlando wasn’t just a woman, she was a beautiful woman, and beauty comes with its own set of problems. Men adored her, and wanted to possess her for that reason, much like she had wanted to do when she was a he. Beauty also involves the maintenance of beauty, which in Victorian England involved a staff of cosmetic and clothing engineers. Being a woman wasn’t a simple fact, it was a process.

When we discuss women’s history, we see a progression toward freedom and self-determination, with each generation gaining more ground, yet each stage in the process being lived by different women. The joy of Orlando is that the gradual liberation of women is experienced by the same woman over hundreds of years. She seems to be waiting for the time when she can be treated as an equal to men, when she can retake her home, raise children, and dress herself without an entourage of handmaidens.

This time does eventually come, and toward the end of the movie we see Orlando driving, which, in 1928 when the book was written, was a symbol of liberation for women. The movie ends in the 1990’s, rather than the 1920’s, but brings to modernity the elegance and calm that run throughout the entire movie.

Advertisements