“The Wife”, directed by Björn Runge, is another story that proves the rightness of the sentence: “behind every great man there is a (even) great(er) woman”. The movie concentrates on the Joan (great Glenn Close) and her husband Jonathan (very good Joe Castleman), who is about to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. As is easy to guess – the titled wife lives in the shadow of her partner – beloved author and a soul of every company. The director follows very schematic scenario – the narration slowly reveals what is hidden behind both – Joan’s smile and the entire world. The story of a man whose success would not be possible without his – literally – better half becomes a frame for a pretty sad parable about both – whole patriarchal society and publishing industry in which sex matters more the voice. What’s important, when composing his movie from clichés, the director manages to go beyond the scheme – “The Wife” is not a pure repetition of a stereotypical gifted woman whose talent was crushed by the patriarchy and who became a victim of the system, which happens thanks to the dramaturgy of Joan’s dilemmas and thoughts – her internal fights that are amazingly played by Close. Nevertheless, in the final analysis Runge’s movie is nothing but a confirmation of the patriarchal power’s dominance.
Jonathan is a walking embodiment of a stereotypical aging writer that seems to be detached from reality, but at the same time attracts young women and seduces his audience with ironic humour and charming honesty and joviality of an old and famous man that is always allowed more than the others. Shy and rational Joan is his total opposition and complement; together that are like reverse and obverse of the same coin (or book), She realizes the role of the Wife of the Great Writer – he always thanks her in juicy, heart-melting words from the stage, and she is the one who remembers about his medicines and who keeps him on the earth.
The dramaturgy of Runge’s movie is based on the clash of the past and the present. The director combines the story of young passionate lovers (student and her teacher) with the portrait of the same people 30 years later. In the narration that seems to be overloaded with typical figures, predictable twists, obvious contrasts and well-known truths, there is something that remains unique and unforgettable – it’s Close’s performance and interesting and well-developed story of protagonist’s internal changes that save the entire movie from getting a labour of ordinary trash. The picture of unobvious and tough love between Joan and Jonathan is another bright part in this ridiculously obvious narration that is completed by two other characters that are made as personifications of stereotypes: first of them is the protagonists’ son – David (very good Max Irons), who is an aspiring writer and a black sheep in the family, and the second one is Nathaniel (interesting Christian Slater) – a nosy biographer.
“The Wife” is a nicely done and well directed movie that asks two important questions. First of them is connected to the definition of genius; second one – is about possibility of finding a space for female agency and subjectivity in a patriarchal space of limited freedom and growing dependence. The director finds neither new problems nor new solutions, but the fact that clichés are put in a story that – thanks to dynamics of relations between the protagonists – remains engaging make the entire movie more than bearable.