Saturday, October 10, 2015
Tom and Viv
Tom and Viv is not based on a book, and I cannot even say that I have read the first bit of T.S. Eliot. But this movie haunts me in such a way that I figure it's worth saying a few words about, and since the movie has such obvious literary connections, why not here? Tom and Viv is a British drama about the first (failed) marriage of Tom Eliot, better known as T.S. Eliot, whose famous work is The Wasteland. This is an extensive poem I've also not read, but I have heard about it, and the sentiment expressed was that the world is going to pot. I mention The Wasteland because it features in Tom and Viv, as a work of collaboration between Tom and his wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood. The two are from different worlds; Tom is an American poet with no social status whatsoever, while Viv is a society daughter from a line that goes clear back to the Norman conquest. In the film's opening lines, Tom's future brother-in-law Morris ponders that Tom desperately wanted to be English, so infatuated was he by England's rich traditions. This is unfortunate, because Viv saw in Tom someone who could take her away from high society, allow her to escape it. She had such hope for him -- he lived in the attic of the most hated man in Europe, Bertrand Russell! She didn't expect that Tom would become utterly respectable, and worse yet through the most ploddingly civilized ways -- through ordinary work at a bank and joining the Church of England. And for his part, Tom didn't expect that she was absolutely mental. What exactly the matter is with poor Viv is never really nailed down; there's speculation that she's manic-depressive with unfortunate hormonal balance issues, but more accurate diagnoses don't emerge until it's too late for her. The pair's whirlwind courtship gives them no clue that one day Tom will be attending dinner parties with Virginia Woolf, or that Viv will be forcing Ms. Woolf out of her taxi at gunpoint and taking it to Tom's office, where she will pour melted chocolate into the mailbox because TOM NEEDS HIS CHOCOLATE and that wretched secretary won't let her in. The movie spans over fifteen years, through which the two make one another steadily more miserable, worsened by the fact that they really do love one another. Or at least they're devoted to some ideal of the other - the idea that Tom loves Viv is put into question by the fact that he sticks her in a lunatic asylum and never sees her again, going to to marry some other woman and leave her to sit in a garden with other lunatics, baking chocolate cake for the husband she will never see again. Her brother's no better, wandering off to Africa and never writing. At the end the viewer is left with two every depressing bits of speculation: Viv and her entire family were made miserable by erratic behavior that could have been ameliorated by medicine, and that Tom was mostly attracted to Viv for selfish reasons. I have watched it perhaps four times in the past year, and every time it leaves me sad -- yet there is something compelling about the unhappy couple's contradictory cries of the heart.