“…This becomes one of the most scathingly honest American films ever made,” roared Stanley Kauffmann of The New York Times.
Originally a play written by Edward Albee in 1962, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is transformed into this brilliant and brutal film by director Mike Nichols. The incredibly tragic and demonic story takes us on a journey into a twisted dimension where the line between reality and illusion is almost nonexistent.
Nichols’ use of black and white cinematography adds such a thick layer of darkness and hopelessness to the characters that the audience is almost immediately subjected to feelings of tension and anxiety. We travel a long and delusional road to a hell of absurdity and passion and cannot rest for a single second of the full 132 minutes.
Starring in this absurdest comedic film are two couples: George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), and Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis). George and Martha are an old, drunk and dissatisfied couple who have the younger ones over for a drink after a party thrown by Martha’s father. Before Nick and Honey even arrive, we are graced with Martha’s bellowing and screechy diatribe against George, who is seemingly the only sane one in the marriage. Once the young couple finally enters, breaking up George and Martha’s loud dispute (don’t worry, there are many more to come), we immediately detect the strain between the four characters and almost want to stop watching the film because the feelings of embarrassment and restlessness are so realistic and stressful.
The emotional vulnerability we experience, however, keeps us stuck on the edge of our seats throughout the awkward encounter.
There is verbal spar after spar between George and Martha, and as the night wears on Nick and Honey begin to see similarities in the two marriages.
It seems, although, that things have begun to settle in the house, when the subject of George and Martha’s son brings upon a whole new uproar, which ends with George aggressively spinning Honey round and round to the eerie lyrics “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” until she becomes sick.
Verbal abuse eventually escalates to physical between the couples. At this point in the film the audience is expecting someone to snap and are honestly just waiting to see who loses their mind first. Faster and faster do we lose our own sense of self and, alongside the characters, are obligated to decipher between the truths and falsities in our lives.
As the film comes to an end, startling truths come to the surface and our grasp on what is real and what is fake has ultimately been destroyed. We are left with a grim and ominous feeling and are forced to ask ourselves the essential question: “Are we afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
5th Avenue Cinema is free for PSU students, $3 for other students and $4 general admission. Visit 5thavenuecinema.org/upcoming-films for show times and a full schedule of other films being screened over fall quarter.