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A Quiet Passion, director Terence Davies’s new film based on the life of poet Emily Dickinson, is a great deal like Dickinson’s poems: fragmentary, intense, dark, humorous, and sharply punctuated. Despite some notable flaws—the delivery of many lines is more suited for stage than camera, and lead actor Cynthia Nixon’s frequent Cheshire cat smile is jarring—A Quiet Passion is a rich film, in every sense of the word.
It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s exquisitely done. As one reviewer explains it, the form reflects Dickinson’s own aesthetic: “Just as Dickinson’s poetic mode of personal expression and ear for idiosyncratic metaphor anticipated modernism, so here does Davies’s cinematic style slip certain bonds and achieve an unquiet fluidity.” Like Dickinson’s poems, the film luxuriates in the tangibles of life, tokens resonant with human meaning.
Way - A - Quiet - Passion - Life
In this way, A Quiet Passion is, perhaps, as much about what life is like as it is about what Dickinson’s life was like. Life is filled with many quiet moments—alone or with family and friends, at the table, in the parlor, around the yard, in the midst of conversation. Life is filled with contradictions in our words, in our actions, in our inner thoughts and beliefs. The power of the film is in capturing the way these moments accumulate into life’s most meaningful things, just as Dickinson captured them in her poetry.
With languishing camera pans across interior doors and walls, creative renderings of the passage of time, lush period settings, disjointed and stylized dialogue—all set against a backdrop of exquisite and eclectic musical selections (including a piano rendition of a number from Spamalot, which, oddly enough, works perfectly)—the film is more experimental than conventional. In fact, watching A Quiet Passion is less like watching a movie and more like walking through a museum to gaze at a...
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