Leave the cannoli, take the movies

Review Blog

A Quiet Passion

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on April 30, 2017 at 4:15 PM


Terence Davies


IDEA:  A portrait of Emily Dickinson, from her iconoclastic teenage years to her later increasing reclusiveness.

BLURB:  One of the most notable features of Terence Davies’s supremely witty and ineluctably sad A Quiet Passion is its use of language. Everyone in it, from Emily Dickinson to her family and friends, speaks in an exaggeratedly eloquent, hyper-literary English whose crisply theatrical delivery attunes us to each and every word. The effect is a foregrounding of prosody as much as meaning, underscoring the dense materiality of spoken language and its attendant pleasures and frustrations. This is clearly an appropriate and clever strategy to employ in a film about a poet, especially one, as Davies shows us, whose sharp linguistic sense contributed to both her artistic triumphs and her personal torments. The dialogue shrewdly embodies this duality: it is at once dazzlingly acrobatic and piquant, optimally mobilized for expression, and thick and entrapping, the structure of an intractable discursive realm that Dickinson in particular struggles to find peace within. Emotionally brittle and abrasively forthright, equally empowered and debilitated by her stubborn convictions and rhetorical proficiency, Cynthia Nixon’s astonishing performance illuminates a woman bound up, for better and worse, in the vagaries of such discourse. For Davies, she is a fiercely smart, sensitive individual whose tragedy was just that, an artist for whom words were her greatest ally and the material of her self-seclusion from the unjust world she refused to yield to.

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