I thought The Iron Lady something of a mash-up of J. Edgar and John Carter (see Film Critic Hulk). I think the use of "triggered" flashback is annoying. So when Margaret is entering the dining room in 2008, the action triggers the memory of a meal when she was a young woman meeting with political players. The entire plot is done this way. 2008, Trigger, Memory. 2008, Trigger, Memory. The film peeks at different aspects of her life: wife, mother, young politician, maneuvering politician, Prime Minister, bad guy, good guy, questionable guy, end of career. Due to the structure of the film, we don't flow in typical narrative fashion. We hop from 2008 to each aspect.
Which means the film lacks the traditional development of tension.
As Film Critic Hulk discusses in the piece on John Carter, there's story-telling and there's drama. The key to drama is tension. So while we can relate to Thatcher grieving over her dead husband and her dementia/mental decline, also to the sad situation of the care-giving daughter--the lack of drama and investment in the characters renders these situations generic.
I empathize with the grief of Margaret Thatcher's situation, not her. Why? Because we have like...5 minutes of her and her husband being together. The briefest hints of his displeasure at his redundancy.
I empathize with someone suffering from dementia/mental decline, not Margaret Thatcher suffering from dementia/mental decline. Why? Because the story of Margaret Thatcher is so fractured, breezing through some 60 years of her life in a brief 105 minutes, that we don't connect to the character the way we might in a linear story of longer length. I would argue this is purposeful. Thatcher is a controversial individual. This structure allows us to feel for her but keeps us at a distance so we're not ROOTING for her. Contagion operated in a similar way. But my not caring so much about Margaret means that I'm not terribly upset she has mental disease. This is contrasted, by, say, The Notebook.
I empathize with the situation the daughter is in--having to take care of someone in mental decline--but not the daughter herself. Because...what do I know of the daughter?
So the film is analyzing Margaret Thatcher's life in a way that doesn't make it easy for the viewer to connect to the character on a personal level. Which means we are, as viewers, in a bit of a detached, observational position. Rather than being emotionally invested in the character.
And for 103 minutes I didn't care. At all. The film felt derivative of other biopics, except I was watching the details of Margaret Thatcher rather than Mark Zuckerberg or J. Edgar Hoover.
Then that final scene.
The Iron Lady: Meryl Streep
Sort of like Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man movie: Jim Broadbent
Young Thatcher: Alexandra Roach
Young Green Goblin, sort of like a more confident Peter Parker: Harry Lloyd
Daughter: Olivida Colman
The last scene really made me sad. And this time for Margaret Thatcher.
What's going on?
First, let me discuss an earlier scene in the movie. Margaret is in her living room, reading. Hallucination Denis has just ruined the ending of the book. We hear, for the first and only time, the internal monologue of Margaret Thatcher. It sounds as though she is reciting something.
Denis leans forward: "It's a marvel to me you can still quote whole chunks of Kipling, but try remembering the name of that woman who just made you that god-awful [colt?] collection. Huh? Come on, you can do it. Month of the year. One syllable. Rhyme's with moon. [After Margaret, having struggled, finally says "June", he continues]. Juunnne! I knew you'd get there in the end." He then begins to recite the passage of Kipling Margaret had sought to comfort herself with. He's being a condescending prick.
In reaction to Denis, Margaret turns on the television, then a stereo system (which starts playing music), then a blender, then a mixer, then a radio, then another blender. She marches back into the living room. She looks around. The camera cuts from her to imitating her searching gaze back to her back to her gaze. She says "If I can't hear you, I can't see you. If I can't see you, you're not here. And if you're not here, I'm not going mad. I will not go mad. I won't go mad. I will not go mad. I will not!" What then appears on the television screen? Margaret Thatcher. Video footage from her trip, earlier that day, to the doctor. She's looking at her old self. The camera jumps to the ceiling, we're looking down on Margaret who is suddenly leaning on the couch for support. The care-taker comes in, turns everything off. And Margaret, in the increasing silence, whispers: "I...don't recognize myself." The next shot is her staring in a mirror.
So what's going on at the end?
It's the morning after her climactic confrontation with the hallucination of her dead husband. She's dressed and just had a cup of tea. She's taking the empty cup to the sink. Her helper woman sees her, says "Oh let me do that, Margaret." To which Margaret replies "Oh, no, no. It's alright, I'll do it."
She proceeds to wash the cup. As she does, she becomes aware of the window facing her.
We watch Margaret watching through the window. Then she looks down.
Think about what she was just looking at and hearing. Sounds of vitality. Of the living world. Birds in fulgent trees. Children laughing and active.
Then her hands.
A story is a logical system. Here's an example on the most basic level. Character A is named "Margaret". Character B is named "Denis". When Character D and Character E have a dialogue and refer to "Margaret" we know this means Character A.
Every aspect of a story is either valid, invalid, or inconclusive. We test these aspects. If Character A is "Margaret Thatcher" she must be "Margaret Thatcher" for the entire movie. If she's suddenly being called "Harry Potter" and the plot is focusing on destroying King Kong, the movie is invalid as a recreation of the life of Margaret Thatcher.
If Character B is "Denis Thatcher" he must always be "Denis Thatcher". If one scene shows "Margaret Thatcher" kissing a woman--who is not the previously established male playing "Denis"--and referring to this woman as "Denis", we'll be confused because it doesn't fit the logic system the movie had constructed.
"Plot holes" are failures in a film's logic structure. Either actions that are totally invalid, or actions that are inconclusive. An "inconclusive" action could be something like...Character A is driving. Then Character A is shown in a casket. Then the movie ends. We're not told specifically how Character A died. Maybe from a car accident? But we're not sure. An "invalid" action would be if we saw Character A get dropped in a volcano and melt in lava, then we saw a shot of the character in a casket. If the body burned, how is there a body to bury? If this "invalid" action isn't explained in some lame way, like, "it's a fake body", we'll be upset because the action is illogical. Unless the movie is something goofy like Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Naked Gun. The "invalid" action is another sort of joke.
In the earlier scene I referenced, when Margaret turns on all of the noise-making devices in her vicinity, the film introduces an aspect when Margaret says: ""If I can't hear you, I can't see you. If I can't see you, you're not here. And if you're not here, I'm not going mad."
It then proves part of that aspect true: Margaret can't hear Hallucination Denis, and she can't see him.
The converse of this statement is: "If I can hear you, I can see you. If I can see you, you are here. And if you are here, I am going mad."
"You" refers to Hallucination Denis. But Hallucination Denis is really a sign of mental decay. And mental decay is a sign, in most cases, of aging.
She can hear "life".
In season speak: she is in the midst of the colorful riot of autumn.
Then will come winter.
This prophetic vision of death is reflected in the lighting of the moments that follow.
Because while the movie may hopscotch its way through Margaret's life, it showcases, again and again, her UNWILLINGNESS to accept defeat. In bits and pieces, we see what Margaret was: physically, emotionally, and politically: once young, once loving, once the Prime Minister. She has lost youth, lost love, lost her role as Prime Minister. But she had refused to accept it. The same way she refused to accept she was pushing away her husband, pushing away her children, pushing away the people, and pushing away her coworkers--she wouldn't listen to what any of them were trying to tell her. The same way she had refused to accept the death of her husband.
"I don't recognize myself."
The Iron Lady is a movie with a vague thematic conclusion. Just like No Country For Old Men, Fight Club, Donnie Darko, The Ides of March, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Citizen Kane, The Graduate, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
In order to understand these movies, we have to understand the logic systems they are creating. Which takes work.
Like, the key to the final speech of No Country For Old Men is in the title.
The Graduate spends a great chunk of its time validating the "love story" between Benjamin and Elaine only to, with the final shot, render this love story inconclusive.
Most movies have systems that rely less on theme and more on action. The Lion King opens with the song "The Circle of Life" and the birth of Simba. It concludes with the song and the birth of Simba's and Nala's child.
King Kong has the death of the titular character, but also explicitly states the theme: "T'was Beauty that killed the Beast."
Or the system sets up a question: will This happen or won't it?
In Eurotrip, the question is: will Scott get Mieke, or won't he?
In Hero, the question is: will Nameless kill the Emperor, or won't he?
One reason why Casino Royale feels so strange at the end is because we expect the movie to end with the conclusion of the question "will he win the poker game, or won't he?" He does. But the movie continues, despite the system we were using having concluded. The new question, "will Bond escape from Le Chiffre or not?" Just when it seems he won't, Mr. White shows up, kills Le Chiffre, let's Bond go. Then the movie STILL DOESN'T END. We have no idea why it's going on. Then we get yet another question: "Will Vesper get away with the money or not?" Nope. ALL of this to reach the point where Bond is jaded--so cold, emotionless--unattached, wearing and wearing a tailor suit. It makes sense, in the end, because the film begins with Bond earning his "00" status. This is a FAMOUS character. And Casino Royale is the first time showing the character's origins. Which means the overarching system isn't the poker game but the establishment of "James Bond". The movie ends when the caterpillar has become a badass spy.
Which brings us back to The Iron Lady.Margaret first accepts her grief. This conquering of internal turmoil allows her to see outside of herself. And for the first time in the film she becomes self-aware of what's happening to her.
The system created is "will she ever listen to criticism? to a position that contradicts her own stance? to what she doesn't want to hear?" Remember, Hallucinatory Denis is a figment of her own crazy mind, which means the major conflict in the film is her fighting herself. Throughout the movie she ignores what other people say to her unless they're saying what she wants to hear. There is tension here.
At the end, she does listen.
And the news is all about mortality.
For the first time in the movie, I cared about Margaret Thatcher.
Did I Like It:
Meh. Not so much.
I was way more impressed by Meryl Streep than I thought I would be. Still think Mara should have won best actress. But I'm less...irate about it. Meryl would have been my second choice.
There was a lot of blue tones. Especially her wardrobe. There's one shot where we can see her closet. Every fucking piece of clothing is blue.
I did really like the end. It redeemed the movie for me. Otherwise, I don't think it would be interesting in the slightest.
Hallucination Denis is a cool way to make concrete the abstracts of Grief and Mental Decay. The best use of making the abstract concrete: The Future. Well. And Fight Club.
What It's Good For:
-interesting end-people interested in Margaret Thatcher
-the use of making something abstract concrete
-making people think about their own life experiences with grief and a loved one suffering from mental decline
-lack of tension
-end could throw people
-can make people think about their own life experiences with grief and a loved one suffering from mental decline
% Character / % Actor's Personality
Biopics: Raging Bull; Bonnie and Clyde; Amadeus; Hobo With a Shotgun; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Streep: The Deer Hunter; Sophie's Choice; The French Lieutenant's Woman; Adaptation; The Devil Wears Prada