Another Woman (1988)


Whereas the piano-laden score to open up Manhattan suggests a city overflowing with life, Another Woman‘s piano score suggests a life devoid of any actual living.

We Meet Marion (Gena Rowlands) under the sounds of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 as Marion tells us about her life.  The piano piece is quiet and moves slowly, like a turtle stuck in the mud, and it sets the tone for the film.  Marion is stuck in a rut.

Marion is an intellectual who is on leave from work so she can work on a book in the peace and quiet of a rented apartment.  That peace and quiet, however, is interrupted by the sounds of a neighbor therapist and his patient named Hope, played by Mia Farrow.

Marion tells us that while this might interest most people, she wanted nothing to do with it, so she covers up the sound with sofa cushions.  Soon after she is engaged to the sounds of Hope, and it’s clear that Marion identifies with Hope, or at least she did at one time way back when.

Marion is unhappy, but she is only now beginning to realize it.  She’s alienated her best friend and her brother, and she’s in a passionless marriage that began as an affair.  To make matters worse, she had begun an affair Larry (Gene Hackman) who represents a chance at happiness.  Larry points out that Marion and Ken (her husband) don’t love each other, but instead she’s afraid of what real love might feel like, probably because it involves caring for someone outside of yourself.

While listening to Hope’s therapy sessions, Marion begins to remember specific moments of her past.  These range from childhood memories of happier times to her time with Larry and even imagined interactions.  Marion becomes a ghost, omniscient and invisible.  She sees the way her daughter-in-law talks about her, with distant respect but also a reluctance to be like Marion.

Then Marion has a dream in which she’s forced to look at her reality.  She walks in on a staged play of a conversation she almost had earlier with her husband in which they both address their unhappiness.  She then runs into Larry, and she sees that he’s happy and healthy, a life vest just out of her reach.

It’s during this dream sequence that the haunting notes of Gymnopedie No. 1 return, and it’s not long after that she finally confronts her husband Ken about their lack of intimacy.  Soon after she runs into Hope, and it’s like she’s talking to her younger self and warning her of her own mistakes.  While at a restaurant with Hope, Marion sees her husband out with another woman.

Marion knows she needs to change.  She makes amends with those she can still reach out to, and to really hit the nail on the head, she overhears once more Hope’s therapy session in which she discusses Marion and how sad she is.  That session is Hope’s final visit, as if meeting Marion made everything clear to her.

Marion then reads Larry’s book, briefly alluded to earlier.  She reads about the character inspired by her, and she remembers her brief relationship with Larry and how wonderful it was.  She closes the book and says she is at peace.

Another Woman is Woody Allen’s second consecutive and third overall drama, but it’s a bit lighter than his previous two dramas.  Part of what makes it more palatable is that Marion has to face her flaws whereas many of his other dramatic characters saturate themselves in their poor behavior.

This is like Woody removed one of the characters from either Interiors or September and said, “look, you’ve got to figure this out, so have at it.”

Though Marion interacts with many other people, the film is mostly internal and forces her to come face to face with herself.  At first that is through her affinity and similarity to Hope, but in the end she has only her present self to sit with, not who she once was or who she might someday be.

This film also feels like an adaptation of A Christmas Carol with the protagonist forced to sit down, eyes wide open, and think about their behavior and the people they’ve hurt.  It’s a bit painful, especially as I think we can all see a little of ourselves in Marion.  Sure she might be a little more icy, but the story is about regrets and longing.  We’ve all had regrets, right?  I regret watching The Girl on the Train last week.

So Marion goes through a little bit of hell but comes out of it a better person.  It’s a nice ending to a bleak film.  Like his other dramas, it feels so bland.  There’s less personality in Allen’s dramatic films.  It’s like he said in one of his earlier films, (I can’t recall which) in the face of death everything becomes a little more clear.  Was that a Woody Allen film?  I seriously can’t remember if I’m thinking of the right movie.  Either way Woody deals with death a lot and how that can affect your perception of life.  Like Mickey in Hannah and Her Sisters, Marion is having a crisis of sorts.  In each of Allen’s three dramas, the characters are so faced with either uncertain or seemingly doomed circumstances, and they lose any unique characteristics.  They become vessels in which the audience can place their fears and insecurities: “God, I hope I don’t turn into that.”

That’s what Hope is here.  Also, what a name, Hope, it’s very blunt and kind of perfect.  There’s no subtlety.  The universe is being very direct with Marion, telling her this is how she must change.  That’s what the ghost of Christmas’ past (spelling?) did in A Christmas Carol.  He wasn’t shy about telling Scrooge to shape up.  He didn’t take Scrooge to a screening of a French New Wave film, and then after that say “what do you think the message was?” No, he took a hammer and beat him over the head with it, like a drill sergeant screaming at you to be a better human being.

So Marin is faced with Hope and how close it once was.  She even runs into her childhood friend completely out of the blue and is then forced to learn that she was a bad friend.  What are the odds of running into your childhood friend in the middle of New York?

The universe, my friend, sometimes it notices you’re straying and it nudges you in the right direction again.

The title works well, too.  It works on multiple levels, as a title should.  “Another Woman” could refer to Hope, or it could refer to the fact that Marion was the “other” woman when her now-husband had an affair on his ex-wife with her, or it could refer to the other woman whom Marion spies Ken with on a date.  Lastly, it could just be all the versions of Marion.  It’s like this is a time travel movie, but she’s able to dip in and out of other timelines to see how her life could have gone.

The story really looks at Marion at different fork in the road moments in her life.  We see her brother argue with her father about working to help send Marion to college because she’s such a smart girl with a bright future.  Her brother doesn’t want to sacrifice his own self-interests in the name of getting Marion ahead.  It serves to illustrate the seed of bitterness Paul felt towards Marion.  It also shows how her father helped pump up her ego and convince her she’s better than some other people.

Then we see Marion with Larry as she flatly rejects him and he tries to tell her she’s not in a happy marriage.

We also see Marion tell her college professor/boyfriend that she got an abortion, and (Hope is pregnant too, of course) she later accepts that she probably did want a child.  She never did have a child of her own, and this is her low point, realizing time has gone and she missed the train.

Throughout the film these memories represent something Marion lost, but in the end, realizing she shared something special with Larry, Marion comes to the conclusion that maybe a memory doesn’t equate to the end of something.

That’s when Gymnopedie No. 1 returns, only this time you begin to hear the hope in its somber melody, and suddenly there’s nothing “stuck” in the song, it’s just taking it’s time.

Up Next: Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Deepwater Horizon (2016), Alice (1990)

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