Coming from director Josephine Decker who gave birth to a unique narrative drama through Madeline’s Madeline (2018), Shirley is a biographical film that avoids the clarity of biographical films. Because although the character is a real-world figure, and filled with several facts, this film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell, which although based on the life story of novelist Shirley Jackson, her speech is herded into the realm of fiction.
The film opens through an introduction to a new married couple, Fred (Logan Lerman) and Rose (Odessa Young), who want to stay temporarily in the home of Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) and her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg). Fred is trying to reach his dream of becoming a lecturer under Stanley’s guidance. At first everything seemed fine, when Fred and Rose received a warm welcome. Until they met Shirley. Top Movie Site
Shirley is not a friendly figure. He spends more time in the room in a drunken condition, does not yet have ideas for the latest work, and when someone asks, “What’s your latest book?”, He answers, “A little novella called NONE OF YOUR GODDAMN BUSINESS”. Afterwards, we know that Stanley, behind his intellectual status and smile, is a cheating man who always tries to establish his power over his wife.
When Shirley said she wanted to write a novel instead of novella, Stanley responded, “You’re not ready”. Even every Shirley’s work must pass its review. Stanley’s figure represents the superiority of “intellectual husband” over multiple wives that occurred in the 1950s (even today) as the setting of the film. Superiority is instilled through mind manipulation, in which men, through their controls try to assert that women are no smarter, so they must pass their agreement if they want to do anything.
Rose finally became a victim of injustice. Stanley asked him to stop going to college to do homework, which Shirley could not do. Despite objections, as a form of support for Fred’s ambitions, he finally complied. From there Rose began to interact a lot with Shirley at home, especially after the novelist created a character based on her.
In addition to the figure of Rose as the character foundation, Shirley’s latest novel (titled Hangsaman, published in 1951) was also inspired by the case of the disappearance of a student named Paula. Shirley is antisocial, so she needs help Rose is gathering data about the Paula case, whether from the files on campus, or the testimony of residents. The activity brought Rose to hear Shirley’s erkait gossip. Some call it crazy. Some believe he wrote a story about cannibals. The problem is, all the information is always spiced “Said”. The script by Sarah Gubbins tucked in irony, how the public away from Shirley based on rumors believed to be reality, while the novelist, who was considered very bad, actually bothered to look for facts “only” to give birth to fiction. Best Movie
Decker and Gubbins worked on Shirley like respect, packing it in the style of the novelist. Despite being a quasi-biographical drama, Shirley is thick with horror thanks to Tamar-kali eerie music (Mudbound, The Assistant), as well as atmospheric visuals including some nightmarish sequences, which occasionally include blood and a little jump scare. The nuance that not only reflects the specificity of Shirley’s work, but also her psychic. Moss revives Shirley’s anxious figure, as if it might explode at any time. On the other hand, Young carries Rose to oscillate at the boundary of innocence and awareness of reality.
Directing Decker also shines when dealing with romanticism, which naturally moves to sensuality. One of the most memorable scenes was when Rose approached Shirley who was sitting in a swinging chair. The camera focuses on the lower part of their bodies which slowly approaches. Decker builds intense sensuality without exploiting cheap sexuality, proving that female gazes tend to be more elegant in covering this kind of situation.
Having the character of a novel writer, it became natural when Shirley did not escape discussing the creation of the work. Exposure to creativity in the process of writing that is tiring of the brain and heart, so the peak of dynamics. So when the story stopped for a moment to explore the issue, plus an impromptu time jump of about a year, Shirley had lost the grip and the distinguishing element of most drama. Until we reach the final round. Beginning with Rose’s awareness of the secret Shirley knew (and the viewers were suspicious), we were led to a tense scene set in a cliff. Then a conclusion that would spark discussion and confusion followed.
(SPOILER STARTS) There are a number of points that the film might want to convey through its ambiguity conclusions: 1) How the writer projects his imagination into reality; 2) The process of a writer thinking about ending options, which requires him to choose between an ideal picture of hope or dark reality; 3) The individual process metaphor “kills” its old self before transforming into a new person. But what seems to me more ambiguous is the closing scene. After spending the entire duration presenting empowering stories, why is Shirley happy to hear the confession of her husband who calls her a genius? Is it an inconsistency? Or is it precisely the bitter exposure of reality? That finally, no matter how independent women want, the world still forces them to accept injustice. Unlike the twist on Rose, the ambiguity of this point actually reduces the firmness of the message. (SPOILER ENDS).Movie Review