THE WIFE and Bioethics

THE WIFE PART I:  Bioethics, Breaking Oaths, and Stockholm Syndrome

This week I saw two films that were about the theft of creative property. One of the films was THE WIFE and the other THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER. Peculiarly, in each case the stealing is linked to a profound purgatorial love for another character. This is not the way one typically thinks of plagiarism. 

THE WIFE, stars Glenn Close and Johnathan Pryce playing a long married couple, Joan and Joe Castleman. They are thrown into a circumstance that brings on a full throttle life review , the type that  people need as they move into their later years — a great adventure backward. The intimacy of those years does not wain but has an intensity that leaves the viewer waiting for the other shoe to drop.

There is a first grandchild on the way. Their twenty-something son seeks his own creative path from beneath the shadow of his famous literary giant of a father and— we think— shrinking personality of his mother. This is a story of  two writers whose lives, children and work are so immeshed that it has allowed them to sublimate the truth that they are neither one intellect nor a single spirit. 

At first, the soft beauty of a New England landscape in early winter lures us  into the family romance of the film couples’ enduring love affair. Then, the stark early winter of Stockholm, with its block architecture and grid format streets is quickly unsettling. The dialog written by Jane Anderson and based on the novel The Wife by Meg Wolitzer is delivered like bread crumbs trailing to the climax not of a melodrama but a riveting suspense.

Close’s portrayal of Joan, the wife, is magnificent in its simplicity. The actress creates a woman who  keeps her cards so near her chest  that  she seems to have forgotten they are there. But, the audience hunches forward in anticipation. Joan’s stoicism is contrasted with the eccentricities of her husband’s faded sexiness, as he pushes 80, while still trying to philander. Clearly, director Bjorn Runge’s bent toward mystery— and veteran stars capable of taking direction so well they reach beyond the stratosphere— brings this “little movie” into the arena of the grande—maybe even the grandest. 

And for Bioethicists? It’s an exploration of  the role of life review in relationships and health. The simplicity of copyright handling intellectual property dissolves into a bioethical concern momentous as the complexities of creative threads which spawn a finished art work. The film is  a teasing apart of strands. It is dizzying enough to drive one to split the baby in half to redistribute its parts. 

Just when you can barely tolerate the high pitched squill of this marriage between Joan and Joe a moment longer, the darn string ruptures. We are left wondering how and why people get themselves tangled in such clearly toxic webs.  Oddly, I found the answer to  that question while considering the film the KINDERGARTEN TEACHER.  That is Part II of this exchange — on Bioethics, Breaking Oaths and Stockholm Syndrome.  

The Wife Official Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d81IM0loH7o

Celia Jameson (2010) The “Short Step” from Love to Hypnosis: A Reconsideration of the Stockholm Syndrome, Journal for Cultural Research, 14:4, 337-355, DOI: 10.1080/14797581003765309