Monday, 21 January 2019

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Hvem er bange for Virginia Woolf?
“Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is one of those plays that are frequently staged, at least it is a show that keeps popping up here and there, so obviously it has some reputation, but I have never known exactly what it is about. Now I have cheated and watched the movie version instead, simply because it is the next one on the List, so now I know. Or do I?

It is obvious from the get-go that this is filmed theater. It is all about dialogue with very few characters and hardly any changed in location. Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and George (Richard Burton) is a not-so-young-anymore married couple. He works as associate professor at an unnamed college, and she is the principal’s daughter. It is late at night and they are hosting a little get-together for a younger, newly arrived couple at the campus, Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis).

The entire movie is what happens at this party, and what a strange party it is. Martha and George do nothing but bicker, insult, tease, taunt and mock each other and their guest. This is accompanied by a substantial amount of alcohol resulting in a somewhat hazy performance of the participants. Nick and Honey are uncomfortable to say the least, but somehow they get to stay and everything goes from bad to worse.

I cannot even remember the many insults being thrown around but they include such things as Martha mocking George for having no spine an amounting to nothing. George mocks Martha for her alcohol intake and when Nick tells George in confidence that he married Honey because he thought she was pregnant, George goes right ahead and breaks that confidence. And on and on it goes.

A weird topic being brought up is Martha and George son who is supposed to have a birthday the day after. It is a topic they keep returning to, but it upsets them both and while we suspect there is something fishy about it, it is only towards the end we get some clarity on the why.


See, Martha and George were never able to have any children and so they have invented a child, and the bitterness that this infertility has caused they take out on each other. Or so seems to be the official explanation.

I must say I was surprised to learn that this is supposed to be the core of the story. The venom and viciousness on display here is of a caliber that made me think the issue was a lot bigger than this. Frankly, I felt a bit deflated, but then I suppose it causes a lot of grief not being able to get children.

The constant battle raging is entertaining to watch if you wear cynical glasses and being numbed by the constant onslaught it did give me a few laughs, to the extent that I suspected this was a very very black comedy. Or, more realistically a warning against alcohol and an endorsement for concept of a divorce. A life like this must be a life in hell. Of course, it is a clever movie, with the venom taken to these heights, and so I did suspect that there was more to the movie than what we were watching. I still think there must be more, that the games have more layers to explain why these two seem so bent on destroying each other instead of just getting a divorce. However, the above does seem to be the official explanation.   

Acting-wise this is one helluva movie. It won five Academy Awards including two for acting, and eight additional nominations and certainly the acting nominations were deserved. All four of them are in the red zone for most of the movie.

Did I like the movie? Hmmm… I am still on the fence on that question. I generally do not like movies were hysteric arguments take center stage, but in this case the inventiveness and sheer amount of venom makes it quite a spectacle, so I am more positive than I thought I would be.

But like it or not, you cannot get around this play, it is a must-see.



  1. I love this! You shouldn't want to spend time with these people, and yet there is something mesmerising about the way they fight. It would be awful to be involved, but it is brilliant to watch.

  2. Yes, brilliant to watch. I is like a boxing match on words and they almost knock each other out.