Imagine a film like “My Dinner With Andre,” except instead of two old friends catching up over dinner, it is a bitter old married couple drinking all night and slowly loosing their minds. Or perhaps they had lost their minds a long time ago, and are just playing games with each other, the couple their sharing the evening with, and themselves.
“Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” might be the most uncomfortable movie I’ve had sat through, as two people who clearly loved each other at one time, and still seem to care for one another, deconstruct and demolish one another with bombardments of insults, blaming all of their problems and terrible and seemingly misguided lives on the other. And yet, they both come across as enjoying it. Like this is the only thing that will bring them true joy any more – insulting their other half in front of people who didn’t ask for this.
We watch as this nasty and disrespectful couple become monsters in the blink of an eye. Their own need for satisfaction and self-loathing consumes them, to the point that their “game” is all that matters.
This film is driven by the performances of George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), who were married at the time this film was made and come across as letting off some personal anger on camera. George is quiet at first and intelligent about his word choice, but becomes insistent on ruining the lives of both Martha and the couple they’re with as the evening wears on. As if he feels the world would explode if he didn’t.
Elizabeth Taylor won her second Academy Award for her performance in this film, as she plays Martha as a woman who has had many regrets in her past and has promised to live life without any more. She refuses to let anything tie her down, including her husband, father and her previous decisions. But she is still haunted by those regrets, those choices that have ruined her life. In her eyes, most of those choices were not her doing. And that is what angers her the most.
Together, these two give a spectacle that is unsettling to watch, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
While “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” was originally a play, you couldn’t tell by watching this, as the camera movement plays with perspective as well as any other movie out at the time. Normally, cinematography and editing is unimpressive in play-to-film adaptations, but here the black-and-white cinematography adds a creepy and unnatural atmosphere, as if we’re watching an old Universal horror film.
“Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” is a mesmerizing horror-film that doesn’t claim to be a horror-film. We watch as a marriage is torn to shreds, not with knives or bullets, but with insults, games and repartee. This is unlike anything I have seen before, and probably never will see anything like it again.
Final Grade: A-