The Well-Versed Movie
PostedJanuary 19, 2007
In the opening pages of the novel Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf's time-haunted heroine drifts toward Bond Street for some early-morning shopping, hardly noticing the busy thoroughfare as happy and unhappy memories swirl in her mind. Suddenly, an open book in the window of Hatchard's bookstore catches her eye, and she reads these lines of Shakespeare:
Fear no more the heat o' the sun
Nor the furious winter's rages.
The lines stop her cold. They frame her thoughts and put her mind in order, giving form and meaning to the welter of momentary impressions and recollections that had previously overwhelmed her. "The late age of the world's experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears"—this is what the poem tells her, this fundamental and inescapable truth. It is a defining moment in the momentous day that stretches before her, a day in which the lines recur as a bass note in her consciousness.
In Long Day's Journey into Night, Eugene O'Neill's autobiographical melodrama, James Tyrone, the patriarch of the dysfunctional Tyrone family, delivers speeches from Shakespeare to remind his feckless sons that he was once a great actor. (They respond by spouting passages from Swinburne and Dowson, whom they know he detests.) In A Touch of the Poet, O'Neill's later play, the lead character, Cornelius Melody, poses in front of the mirror and recites histrionically from Byron's "Childe Harold":
I have not loved the World, nor the World me;
I have not flattered its rank breath, nor bowed
To its idolatries a patient knee. . . .
Like T. S. Eliot embedding bits and pieces of Baudelaire, Dante, Goldsmith, and many others in his brief epic, The Waste Land, O'Neill knows that an enlarged vision of experience is incomplete without the verbal formulations made by earlier writers for a range of rhetorical effects.
Fiction writers, dramatists, and poets resort to quotation constantly in order to create stop-motion effects like Woolf's and O'Neill's. Filmmakers too appreciate how verse creates a change of register, a complicating of character and plot. If poetry naturally pops up in films about poet's lives or in "toast and eulogy" scenes that mimic real life—Shakespeare quoted by Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love, a Tennyson pep talk uttered by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, Auden's "Funeral Blues" recited by John Hannah in Four Weddings and a Funeral—it also appears in dramatic ways that go beyond the expected.
The journey from storyboard to celluloid presents the filmmaker with a series of complex problems to be solved, and poetry has been a solution since the dawn of the talkies. Poems have been the means by which a filmmaker reveals a character's state of mind, animates a plot, or introduces a movie's overarching theme. The well-placed poem can intensify, illuminate, and complicate the dramatic arc of a story. Paradoxically, by incorporating a poem into a movie, a filmmaker can use words to communicate non-verbal experiences such as grief, longing, and nostalgia without sentimentality. Writing in the Atlantic Monthly, Virginia Woolf observed that, "when some new symbol for expressing thought is found, the film-maker has enormous riches at his command." She imagined that such symbols would be "something abstract, something which moves with controlled and conscious art."
The late Kenneth Koch describes poetry as a language within a language. In the language of poetry, he writes, "the sound of the words is raised to an importance equal to that of their meaning." Poetry can have a magical or intoxicating effect, even when it is not understood. In a movie this effect can be potent. The quoted poem acts the way a metaphor does within a poem, concentrating or crystallizing the emotion by extending, virtually doubling, the means of its expression. If viewers don't immediately grasp the meaning or pertinence of an Emily Dickinson poem intoned by Kevin Kline in Sophie's Choice, they will absorb the change in rhythm and syntax occasioned by the poem, as if the characters had briefly switched to speaking French, with words both familiar and strange. Those unfamiliar with poetry will experience the language viscerally, if not consciously, the way a child responds to a nursery rhyme because its rhythm matches the heartbeat. Just as minor-key strings alert movie-viewers to imminent danger, poetry tells them that something important is about to happen, or that some profound truth has been revealed. The poem provides a pause to allow for an investigation of emotion, like a briefer and less self-conscious version of the song-and-dance number in a musical. Those who do hear and identify lines of poetry while watching a movie experience an "Aha!" moment that sets off a series of pleasing memories and associations. The lines of poetry resonate deeply in the cerebral cortex as the viewer recalls the poem quoted, the pleasures of first reading and learning the poem, and the emotions it aroused, while simultaneously absorbing and responding to the action on the screen.
The avant-garde film director Maya Deren likens the appearance of poetry in film to the placement of a soliloquy in a Shakespeare tragedy. Though she has in mind the "poetic" film with its cinematic bursts of memories, reflections, and dream sequences, her explanation of the function of the poetic moment is apt in a discussion of the verbal as well as the visual poem. "In Shakespeare," she says, "you have the drama moving forward on a 'horizontal' plane of development, of one circumstance—one action—leading to another, and this delineates the character. Every once in a while, however, he arrives at a point of action where he wants to illuminate the meaning of this moment of drama, and, at that moment, he builds a pyramid or investigates it 'vertically,' so that you have a 'horizontal' development with periodic 'vertical' investigations, which are the monologues."
Such a vertical interruption of the horizontal narrative occurs briefly during last year's Le Divorce. Naomi Watts is an American poet living in Paris, pregnant with her second child, when her husband suddenly leaves her for another woman. She's been invited to give a reading from a recently published anthology of poetry by women. Her first selection is Anne Bradstreet's "To My Dear and Loving Husband," which she reads with great emotional restraint. The poem is a declaration of marital love and how those who commit to such a love will be rewarded with everlasting life. ("Then while we live in love let's so persevere, / That when we live no more, we may live ever."). The poem articulates a moral and spiritual ideal, against which each subsequent relationship portrayed in the movie falls short. Spoken by the character with the greatest moral authority, the poem communicates the film's attitude toward marriage. The poem also introduces the link between love and death, a subject that the film explores as it follows the couplings and uncouplings of its characters.
When a poem appears early in the film, it can subliminally prepare the audience for subsequent action without giving the story away. During the opening scene of In and Out (1997), a comedy about the inadvertent "outing" of a high school English teacher, Kevin Kline recites lines from Shelley's "Love's Philosophy" ("And the sunlight clasps the earth, / And the moonbeams kiss the sea; / What are all these kissings worth, / If thou kiss not me?") The poem's moment passes quickly, yet it serves as a kind of coded message to the audience. Similarly, in Seabiscuit, a dinnertime recitation of Emily Dickinson's "We never know how high we are" introduces the fundamental words that the future jockey Red Pollard comes to live by.
In the 2001 award-winning In the Bedroom, lines from William Blake's "Auguries of Innocence" and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "My Lost Youth" bring to a close the two card-game scenes that frame the film's central tragedy. Both poems share a multiplicity of themes; it's appropriate that they are spoken during a poker game, where chance and individual choice determine the game's outcome. During the first game, W. Clapham Murray, in his gravely down-east twang, quotes eight of Blake's lines, including these:
The Beggar's Dog and Widow's Cat,
Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.
The Gnat that sings his Summer's song
Poison gets from Slander's tongue.
The poetry elicits good-natured ribbing from around the table, which prompts Tom Wilkinson to bid his hand. It also creates a hum, like that of a tuning fork, that foreshadows the violence to come. For those unfamiliar with Blake, the lines taken out of context are not readily understood, yet as spoken by Murray they achieve a tone of prophecy, especially the resonating words "Poison," "Slander" and "Widow."
Others will be reminded of the need to be aware that one's actions have consequences. "We are led to Believe a Lie / When we see not Thro' the Eye," cautions Blake toward the end of the "Auguries."The audience will hear the lines as a warning to Wilkinson that goes unheeded at his peril.
The second card game follows the murder of Wilkinson's son, and the atmosphere around the table is palpably changed from the easy camaraderie of the earlier game. Wilkinson is reeling with grief; his friends treat him gingerly. This time, Murray recites Longfellow:
There are things of which I may not speak;
There are dreams that cannot die;
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
And bring a pallor into the cheek,
And a mist before the eye.
And the words of that fatal song
Come over me like a chill:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.
The last two lines, repeated throughout the Longfellow poem, are from a song recalled by the poem's narrator. The song is characterized by turns as a "burden," "old," "sweet," "mournful," and "fatal" as the poem's narrator is flooded with memories. In the quiet moment of Murray's recitation, Wilkinson inwardly moves toward the ugly act of vengeance that condemns him to an existence more joyless than the one he had already imagined for himself. Taken together, the scenes underscore how quickly happiness can turn to grief and how maturity brings with it the realization that rough justice harrows the spirit even as it satisfies the tribal instincts.
Both Le Divorce and In the Bedroom are screenplay adaptations of written works. These movies demonstrate that poetry can be an effective tool for the screenwriter hoping to translate the world on paper, in which the action may take place over a period of months or years, to the world on screen, where convention dictates that complex dynamics of cause and effect must be captured in two hours. The language of poetry is condensed. Poems make their point quickly. Marilyn Monroe once remarked that she "read poetry to save time." In a sense, filmmakers use poetry to save time. A screenwriter working on an adaptation can improvise with poetry to "save time." The right poem in the right place can capture pages and pages of a character's interior life or add a subtle thematic element that might otherwise consume larger units of valuable screen time.
When Atom Egoyan adapted Russell Banks's novel The Sweet Hereafter, he made strategic use of Robert Browning's "The Pied Piper of Hamelin." Sarah Poley, the wheelchair-bound survivor of a school-bus accident, recites swaths of the poem in voice-over during crucial scenes. The audience is lulled into watching brutal tragedies—the death of children, father-daughter incest—by listening to a fairy tale generally associated with bedtime. The juxtaposition is disorienting, like listening to Malcom MacDowell belt out "Singin' in the Rain" while he beats his victim in A Clockwork Orange. It's what makes the impulse to look conquer the impulse to look away. (Or as described by Phillip Lopate, it "cools down" the "heat" of the film's difficult subject.) At the same time, the poem introduces ambiguity to Egoyan's story: Who is the Pied Piper after all? Is it the bus driver who steers the children to their death? Is it Sarah Poley, who rescues the town from divisiveness by skewing her eyewitness account of the fatal accident? Is it Ian Holm's lawyer? The questions are ultimately unanswerable in the way life's most difficult questions generally are. Had they been posed more directly to the audience, the effect would have been off-putting.
In his screenplay adaptation of Walter Wager's 1974 thriller Telefon, director Don Siegel put one of Robert Frost's most famous poems to brilliantly innovative use. The book and movie are underrated. In both, the U. S. and Soviets are taking tentative steps toward détente. But a crazed K. G. B. agent, played with maniacal glee by the bespectacled Donald Pleasance, is on the loose and activating a 1950s espionage plot that planted "deep cover" agents in the U. S. with identities as working-class Americans. A phone call from Pleasance turns a seemingly ordinary car mechanic or bartender into a mad bomber who destroys military installations and critical infrastructure sites; the trigger phrase is the final stanza of Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," whispered into the mouthpiece:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
In Wager's book, a phrase tailored to each "deep cover" agent's particular domestic situation induces the hypnotic spell. The choice of Frost as the single trigger is inspired and infinitely more clever. Keep in mind that the fictional "deep cover" plot is supposed to have been hatched when relations between the U.S. and the Soviets were at their "frostiest" and the ironies proliferate. Robert Frost was the ultimate Cold War poet, known and admired in the U. S. S. R. as well as by schoolchildren and presidents in the U. S. In 1960, John F. Kennedy recited the final lines of "Stopping by Woods" to conclude his set campaign speech, as he stumped his way around the country. During his 1962 visit to the Soviet Union, Frost recited the poem from memory to a café full of Soviet intellectuals. One could hear the poem's "I'm not dead yet" message as an anthem to the triumph of the American way of life over the Soviet's. The appropriation of the poem for the film's unorthodox use doesn't injure the Frost poem: a good poem gains thereby, giving listeners the opportunity to experience the poetry in a surprising way. At the very least, it lends new meaning to Lionel Trilling's statement, made on the occasion of Frost's eighty-fifth birthday, that Frost is "a terrifying poet" who conceives a "terrifying universe."
A final screenplay adaptation worth mentioning is that of the slimmest chapter in Richard Goodwin's memoir, Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties, adapted for Robert Redford's Quiz Show, the 1994 film about the television scandal that ended the promising intellectual and academic career of Charles Van Doren.
The movie is based on the scandals of the 1950s, when TV quiz shows were rigged to attract higher ratings and lucrative sponsorships. The fact-based story focuses on the program Twenty-One and popular contestant Charles Van Doren, a telegenic, well-bred intellectual who agreed to win the game by receiving the questions in advance and using answers supplied by the show's producers. He defeats the reigning champion, Herb Stempel, a working class Jew from Queens. If the battle between Van Doren and Stempel is presented as a microcosm of American class warfare—WASP vs. Jew, handsome vs. ugly, have vs. have not—it also has much to say about the struggle between low culture (television) and high. This aspect of the struggle is played out during the exchanges between Charles Van Doren and his father, the formidable Columbia University professor Mark Van Doren, who neither owns a television set nor understands his son's interest in game shows. During an early scene, the ambitious congressional investigator Richard Goodwin is invited to the Van Doren Connecticut home where family and friends are celebrating the senior Van Doren's birthday. Over a picnic lunch, Junior and Senior square off in a game of "what's that line," during which they test each other's knowledge of Shakespeare. The senior Van Doren triumphs when he corrects Charles's misquote of lines from Macbeth. Later, Mark Van Doren attempts to recite one of his own poems, a mournful verse about coming to terms with aging ("Now see summer bloom upon this lee / Three score rings around this tree / Once green now bare / Once lush now sere / Consoled only that I am planted here. . .").
But he is silenced by several of the guests who would rather quiz Charles about his growing celebrity than hear a poem. "Charlie is famous, like Elvis," cries one of the young women, giving television the momentary advantage over art. As Goodwin closes in on the scandal, he watches a recording of an early episode of Twenty-One in which a contestant correctly answers a question that he was clearly supposed to flub to end a winning streak that had become unpopular with viewers. The contestant is asked to identify the author of each of three poems. When he correctly identifies Dickinson as the author of, "Hope is the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul," host Jack Barry's double-take and slip-of-the-tongue reveals that he had been prepped to hear the wrong answer. The contestant, willing to go along with TV's demands up to a point, could not bring himself to deny his love of Dickinson. Poetry gives Goodwin the final evidence he needs to corner the quiz show's corrupt producers. In the end, he fails to implicate the network higher-ups or Geritol, the program's sponsor. "I thought I was going to get television," Goodwin says. "The truth is television is going to get us."
Poems make "the unsayable said," writes Donald Hall. And just as in life, a poem in a movie can give voice to the otherwise dumbstruck and inarticulate. It's no surprise that Woody Allen, one of our most sophisticated and literary filmmakers, has been slipping poetry into his screenplays all along.
Woody Allen's characters are educated and accomplished, yet despite their uptown ways and years on the couch, they are often tongue-tied and miserable. Here is Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters sick with longing for his sister-in-law Barbara Hershey. When he can bear it no longer, he confesses his feelings by pressing a volume of E. E. Cummings's verse into her hands, imploring her to read "somewhere I have never traveled,gladly beyond" with its romantic lines "your slightest look will easily unclose me / though I have closed myself as fingers, / you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens." Allen's camera cuts between Michael Caine wandering disconsolately through his dark apartment, his features sagging under the burden of his desire, and Barbara Hershey reclining as she reads the poem. Shortly thereafter, the affair is consummated.
Then there's the moment in Crimes and Misdemeanors when Mia Farrow and Alan Alda discover during dinner that they share a love of Emily Dickinson. Woody Allen, also making a romantic play for Farrow, chimes in with his interpretation of Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop For Death," only to be outdone by Alda, who recites most of the poem from memory. Allen is crestfallen as he watches Alda, an otherwise superficial media star, gain the upper hand with Farrow. Woody Allen's choice of Emily Dickinson is brilliant; Dickinson, a clear-eyed and death-haunted poet of inflexible integrity, with a deep ironic strain to her work, is the perfect choice to underscore the moral ambiguities raised by the heinous and venial crimes committed in the movie.
There are poems in Allen's Another Woman too. It is one of Allen's most affecting dramas, with an outstanding cast, at the center of which is Gena Rowlands playing a woman at midlife coming to terms with her choice to lead an ordered yet unexamined life without passion. As she struggles with long-buried emotions, she turns to Rilke, her mother's favorite German poet. It's as if Rowland is trying to recapture the fullness of youth by returning to the literature that once gave her great pleasure. First she reads "The Panther" with its depiction of the caged animal that lifts its gaze and "An image enters in, / rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles, / plunges into the heart and is gone." She's about to turn away from the poetry when she rereads "Archaic Torso of Apollo," Rilke's poem about the transfixing presence he observes in a headless statue. This poem supplies Rowlands's epiphany with its one-two punch of a final line: "for here there is no place / that does not see you. You must change your life." There is no hiding from Art. Just as we read a poem or look at a sculpture, it looks back at us. Art can be both a comfort and an irritant: it shakes us up precisely because it insists on wresting us from our ordinary habits and, like Rowlands, making us think about altering and enriching our life. Think how much dialogue it would take to substitute for those few concentrated lines of verse!
Sometimes the poem seems to be the tail that wags the dog, the reason for a movie's very existence. Splendor in the Grass, which takes its title from William Wordsworth's "Ode: Intimations of Immortality," is one such film. With an original screenplay by William Inge (who won the movie's sole Oscar for his efforts), the movie tells of the unconsummated love between a rich Midwestern boy and a sensitive girl, played by Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. In a climactic classroom scene, Miss Metcalf—the archetype of the spinster English teacher—wonders what the Romantic Wordsworth meant when he wrote:
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now forever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.
Miss Metcalf chooses Wood to explain the poem to her classmates but Wood is distraught, having learned of Warren Beatty's water-logged tryst with the class tramp. She strains to conceal the pain in her heart but the poem, with its bittersweet depiction of innocence lost, forces Wood to see that her youthful ideals must give way to adulthood. She bursts into tears and flees the room. The irony is painful in that particular way of 1950s adolescent dramas: she does not find "strength in what remains behind," and grief, rather than "the song of thanks and praise," is appropriate.
The more you watch this melodrama, the more suited the poem becomes to the movie's parallel stories. While Wood and Beatty struggle with their raging adolescent hormones, their rural Kansas community is experiencing growing pains of its own. Families have invested their life savings and hopes in Stamper Oil Company, owned by Pat Hingle's boorish Ace Stamper. Dreams of the good life evaporate when Stamper Oil goes under with the onset of the Great Depression, leaving the townspeople bereft like ex-Enron employees. The final scenes of the movie depict the townspeople soldiering on despite their losses, finding strength, "In the soothing thoughts that spring / Out of human suffering."
It's also hard to imagine the Indie comedy The Daytrippers succeeding without Andrew Marvell's metaphysical verse. Director Greg Mottola assembled an ultra-hip cast to populate his 1994 road-trip story that travels from suburban Long Island (past the Walt Whitman mall, in an opening shot), to the mysterious world of Manhattan publishing. But none of it would have been possible without Mr. Marvell.
It's the morning after lovemaking. In an inspired twist on the lover's note cliché, a languorous Hope Davis finds a note in husband Stanley Tucci's pocket including these lines from Marvell's "The Definition of Love": "Therefore the love which us doth bind, / But fate so enviously debars, / Is the conjunction of the mind, / And opposition of the stars." The puzzled Davis takes a trip—destination SoHo—to demand that Tucci explain the poem. Along the way, she absorbs a full range of interpretations, none quite right, until she meets Campbell Scott, who plays an up-and-coming author camping out in Tucci's office. Scott, in a performance that is an early glimpse of his tour-de-force as a misogynist in Roger Dodger, knows his seduction poems. He gathers all of his charms to help the wide-eyed Davis. He is Marvell incarnate, using words to disarm.
It's not until Davis spies her husband cavorting at a party with his homosexual lover that she appreciates the complexities of Marvell and why the poem, with its reference to a love that, "though infinite / can never meet," is appropriate to her husband situation.
In order for a poem to be an effective piece of the cinematic whole, it must seem essential. Properly used, a poem or lines of poetry can change the tone of a filmed sequence, but it must be seamlessly part of the dialogue and mise-en-scène so that if it were to be removed, the impact of a scene would be qualitatively different. There are instances where the "stop-motion" created by the poetry is awkward; the movie's spell is momentarily broken, either because the poem is poorly delivered or unlikely to be part of the character's natural speech. It is hard for the audience to accept C. Thomas Howell's recitation of Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay" (The Outsiders,1983) no matter how sensitive a boy-from-the-wrong-side-of-town he's supposed to be. Similarly, when Paul Franklin Dano's suburban teenager turns the table on his pedophiliac friend Brian Cox in L.I.E, he does so by reciting lines from Whitman's "Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking." The scene is almost painful to watch, with Dano mumbling the lines incoherently (and out of order) while Cox's expression changes from awe to infatuation. It's something other than bad acting. One gets the feeling that the screenwriters were determined to use the single poem they recalled from college no matter what damage they did to the poem, or their movie.
Recognizing poetry that is buried more deeply than usual as a kind of inside joke can be particularly satisfying. Snippets of Blake are spoken throughout Dead Man (1995), and the entire movie seems to be an explication of Emily Dickinson's "My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun," though none of the poem is quoted. And one wouldn't expect to hear anything other than Shakespeare in a film of Richard III. It takes a well-tuned ear to tease out the poetry in Ian McKellen's version, which sets the Shakespeare drama of multiple murder and political intrigue in 1930s England during a fascist coup. During the opening ballroom scene, the rich and royal glide over the dance floor as chanteuse Stacey Kent sings a swinging tune (think Helen Ward backed by Benny Goodman) with lyrics that sound vaguely familiar. "Come live with me, and be my love," she begins, "and we will all the pleasures prove / That hills and valleys, dales and fields / and all the craggy mountains yield." Six verses later, as the film's major characters embrace and twirl about, Kent concludes her song with, "If all the world and love were young, / And truth in every shepherd's tongue, / These pretty pleasures might me move / To live with you and be your love."
While Shakespeare wrote plenty of songs, these are not his words. McKellen's idea was to smuggle in poems by Shakespeare contemporaries (and rivals) Christopher Marlowe and Sir Walter Raleigh. The first six stanzas of the catchy lyric are from Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," a poem that would have been on the Elizabethan top-ten list, if anyone were keeping score. The final verse is from "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd," Raleigh's witty response to Marlowe. The song cleverly conflates the two poems into one inspired literary comment, an example of the sublime meeting of form and content that shows in the most entertainingly possible way that the wit of an Elizabethan love poem still has the power to enchant and delight.
If there were an award for poetry's best moment in film, top honors should go to W. B. Yeats's cameo in 84 Charing Cross Road, a movie that is otherwise only fair. It depicts the epistolary relationship between London bookseller Anthony Hopkins and New York writer Anne Bancroft. When Hopkins learns that Bancroft must cancel her visit to his shop, he turns to Yeats's eight-line "Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven." While the camera lingers over the written poem, Hopkins's gentle voice-over reveals the longing in this otherwise reticent character: "But I, being poor, have only my dreams; / I have spread my dreams under your feet; / Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams." It is a scene of deep emotion that lifts the movie above mediocrity, and casts a sudden sharp light on Hopkins's character, similar to the closure of The Quiet American when Michael Caine, in reverie, bitterly savors some lines from Arthur Hugh Clough's "Dipsychus" that represent his own divided psyche upon losing his beloved Vietnamese mistress.
One history of the movies called it "the motley art" in a provocative subtitle. From the beginning, cinema has thrived on the vitality of other art forms, incorporating or patching them into its own body of work. In the case of poetry, this magpie habit has created the kind of anthology of "movie moments" described in this essay. Poetry is a sister art to film, and there is a sibling rivalry as well as a family solidarity about the way quoted poems roughen the texture of a film, making momentary demands on the viewer. Poems condense meanings in sudden bursts of revelation, as with the Virgina Woolf example at the beginning of this essay, and filmmakers, like novelists, have learned how to punctuate "the hours" with extraordinary lyric language in order to lead viewers further into the strange story-world acted out on the screen.