Reflections On The Movie “Hope Springs,” But It Barely Does, Of Course

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September 1, 2012 · Posted in Commentary 

By Phyl van Ammers


Few seats were empty in the theater that showed Hope Springs, and the film had been showing for a week.   From that evidence I conclude I do not, after all, live among alien beings after all.   The others in the audience could be Tea Party people.   It didn’t matter if they were, although, from what I’ve heard, they are.


I had seen the new Total Recall in the same theater the previous week, and the seats – except for mine – had been empty.  That film grew out of a short story by Philip K. Dick – “We Can Remember It For You.” Blade Runner emerged from Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  A Scanner Darkly is a pharmaceutical exercise.  Critics characterize Philip K. Dick’s writing as science fiction but it can be more accurately described as the inside of a tripping brain: all of it makes me afraid that, when I die, things will be like Hamlet’s soliloquy and that requiescat in pace is a hoax.   Alien beings might enjoy Philip K. Dick movies.


I see all Tommy Lee Jones movies even movies that are complete crap except for the presence of Tommy Lee Jones.   Merle Streep has never made a crap movie but TLJ will even play an old astronaut in a Clint Eastwood movie who gets into a quintessential male bonding fake fight between friends.


Hope Springs is only the name of the fictional Maine town where Middle American Streep and Jones — who are not Middle Americans in real life — take a week of intensive marital therapy.   Hope Springs could mean that hope springs eternal, or that the movie is about hope, but it doesn’t.


Jones plays a cheapskate albeit affluent tax accountant who lives in a well-decorated house with his stay-at-home wife, both of them getting on in years. They eat bacon and sunny side up eggs, their license plate says “Nebraska,” and they fly 1,500 miles to reach Maine, where they stay at an Econo-lodge.    Their children are grown.   They are Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, only from further north.


TLJ’s face has been falling apart all of his life.  He is uglier than he has ever been, and he has a paunch.   His beady black eyes enfolded in slabs of wrinkled flesh that surmount a cartoon character nose do not, in the beginning of the film, reflect light.  He watches programs on golf on television.   When he talks, it is about taxes.   He is insular.  He is the American Everyman.


I don’t know if her Hope Springs face is Streep’s real face or not.   I have never been able to discern her real face.  This might be how she really looks: pudgy, elephantine elbows, the remains of lost prettiness in her face, and a stupid hair-do.   Whoever designed her hair deserves an award because it is a sad arrangement of hair, styled and bleached and flat in the back like she fell asleep on hair spray.  Her clothing is careful and color-coordinated.  Her suitcase is printed with fake flowers. When she loses her eyeglasses, she looks around blindly like a mole.   She is the American Every-woman.


Streep remembers the date, five years earlier, that she last had sex with her husband.    He had a bad back.   He snores.  He moved to a second bedroom.  They do not touch except for photographs.   She wants a real marriage again.  Her husband wants not to be touched, not to talk intimately, and not to say anything that means something.   They have been married for 31 years.   That, to him, is marriage.


Given the actors’ real ages, they should have been married forty years at least but they are Everyman and Every-woman and not real people.


They attempt to hold each other in a bed in the Econo-Lodge.  They are awkward and old.  Streep wakes to find her husband’s arm around her.


TLJ wants to find a restaurant that does not have lobster on both sides of the menu.   The therapist asks them to discuss their sexual fantasies, which, as it turns out, are almost but not quite entirely about each other.    One of TLJ’s fantasies involves Carol, a woman with Corgis dogs and his wife. Streep complains that TLJ squeezed his eyes tight when they used to have sex and did not look at her.   She believes it is because she put on weight and does not want to see her.    She takes him to a French movie in the Maine town and then attempts oral sex during the movie but they have too much difficulty with their eyeglasses and the theater cup holders and Streep runs out of the theater, which could be the theater with all of us sitting in our chairs rooting for them.


The beady black TLJ eyes grow mildly cunning.   He does not want to lose his wife.  He gets – by refusing to leave — a table at an expensive restaurant and also a wonderful hotel room with chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of champagne waiting for them.   They are willing to do anything by then, but they are awkward and embarrassed, like two combatants who come across each other in a room with a fire burning in a fireplace.   They touch each other.   Streep asks TLJ to open his eyes and to see her.   He opens his eyes and it’s all over.   The black eyes in the raddled face open to horror: the horror of vulnerability and passion.   She interprets his failure to her age and the loss of her attractiveness.


The marriage lost its equilibrium.   Streep incrementally plans her escape from it.   TLJ is everything to her but she decides it is better to be alone than to feel alone within a fake marriage.   TLJ’s carapace – like the lobster he refuses to eat – is cracked.    He retires to his own bedroom.  He closes the door.


The camera lingers on the outside of their two-story house.  All the windows are dark.   The audience holds its collective breath.


My marriage did not tilt towards a happy resolution.   My marriage ended.  The film ends.   I leave the theater and walk through this suburban city in the darkness.  A warm August breeze stirs the leaves of eucalyptus and oak trees.   A young man calls to me by mistake at the Safeway.  He persists.  I continue to walk.   Another young man yells at me from a car — believing I am someone else, and he yells, “Fucking bitch,” but I am not anyone he has ever known nor am I any woman he could have known except marriage is the same story for everyone, one way or another: failure or renaissance.











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