starring Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Jodhi May, Keith Carradine
written and directed by Terence Davies
by Walter Chaw Terence Davies doesn't make a lot of movies but he does make masterpieces fairly regularly. A Quiet Passion, a biopic of the notoriously reclusive Emily Dickinson, is his latest. His portrait of the "Belle of Amherst" captures the poet (Cynthia Nixon, transcendent) as a woman who finds no succour in the petrified pieties of her rigid New England society, turning inwards instead to the dubious pleasures of family and verse. She looks for approval from both. Her father (Keith Carradine) suffers her streak of rebellion. There's the sense that he sees in her the continuation of his own modest progressivism, indicated by the quiet approval he gives to his children's mockery of his silly sister (Annette Badland), his acceptance of Emily's rejection of a religious education, and his indulging of Emily's desire to write in the small hours of the night. One senses that these witching hours are her room of one's own. The tableaux of Emily swaddled in the purple cocoon of night is not just a romantic notion, but evocation, too, of Davies's deep consciousness of colour in his pictures, pointing to how these early, idealistic moments are contrasted by the sick yellows, whites, and browns that populate the period after her father's death. He breaks that mourning with an impressionistic interlude that opens upon a green bower, then Emily bathed in firelight in something like the physical/spiritual ecstasy that would be denied her--that she perhaps denied herself for fear and self-loathing--all her life. He closes a door on her, slowly. It's a passage that expresses the tension of the film's title: Emily finds deliverance only upon a deeper metaphysical implosion.