[MOVIE REVIEW]Writer's life charmed, afflicted

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[MOVIE REVIEW]Writer's life charmed, afflicted

English is one of the most profuse, elaborate and influential living languages in the world today - and the late novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) knew the language at its most eloquent. Time was cruel, though, for this literary virtuoso for whom words meant everything. Alzheimer's stripped her of her art. In the end, she could no longer distinguish between the words "dog" and "god." Her tragic tale is told in "Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch," opening Friday, directed by Richard Eyre, head of the Royal National Theater in London.

Judi Dench, enjoying an Indian summer in her acting career, plays the ailing Murdoch. Flashbacks to her younger days are brought to life by - guess who - Kate Winslet. Jim Broadbent, who impressed in "Moulin Rouge" (2001) as the club owner singing "Like a Virgin," stars as the stammering academic friend of Murdoch and her dedicated husband, John Bailey. The picture-perfect Winslet at first seemed a jarring choice to depict the young Murdoch, who was not only vivacious and beautiful, but brilliant as well.

Murdoch was unstinting in her joie de vivre. Although bisexual, Murdoch chose Bailey while in the zenith of her life. It was even an indecipherable mystery to many when she decided to marry him - but it was indeed a wise choice. When time blurs the lucidity of Murdoch's mind, it's Bailey who takes care of her with utmost dedication.

So does the film live up to its potential? Not quite. The weightiest problem is the demanding presentation, flipping back and forth between the old and young Murdoch. In one scene, for example, a pebble in the elderly Murdoch's pillow falls into the river where the young Murdoch is skinny-dipping. The director, Eyre, assumes that a viewer would understand what's going on and why, concentrating only at describing details from Murdoch's busy life. If a viewer is either familiar enough with Murdoch's life or supremely patient, this storytelling style can work, but for the rest of the audience it is hard to understand those condensed elements, and eventually the film becomes boring.

The actors' superb performances are the highlights of the film. Dench especially has done an outstanding job, and has been nominated for a best actress Oscar. Otherwise, the film is too short to be viewer-friendly and too thin to pay adequate homage to Murdoch's lofty legacy.

by Chun Su-jin

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