A Quiet Passion ★★★★½

A QUIET PASSION (Terence Davies, Britain, 2017) 9 R

On second view, A QUIET PASSION (a title that could not unreasonably be paraphrased A LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK) transparently became what I inchoately inferred on first view — Terence Davies’s spiritual autobiography regarding his own deeply conflicted homosexuality, through a felt kinship with Emily Dickinson on that score.

Davies is openly gay but has said often that he’d rather it weren’t so — he is celibate and it “ruined my life,” he has said. And he has been openly contemptuous of being "called out" on it. Yet it’s also shaped him in ways that he can’t not be either — to pick the most stereotypical of public things, Davies is an enormously witty raconteur Briton with a formal and plummy yet boyish voice that can draw blood in four words or less. When he narrates his Liverpool documentary OF TIME AND THE CITY, it’s like listening to Oscar Wilde, or perhaps Noel Coward. And for much of A QUIET PASSION, that’s Emily Dickinson too. Davies has basically made a drama based on Camille Paglia’s theory of Dickinson — a lesbian-tending morbid sadist. But so beautiful and witty.

In the early part of the film, Dickinson (and to a lesser extent her siblings) are the sharpest wits in the class, especially against religious and familial authority. And Dickinson looks out for other wits and “freethinkers,” attaching herself to a radical feminist and a minister who loves her poetry, but who varyingly desert her over their marriages … the former’s succumbing with cheerful wit to conformity, the latter prevented from responding by his own sexual proclivities. Dickinson literally compares a friend’s marriage to his death. Meanwhile, Dickinson (like Davies) refuses to compromise on her ideals even in the name of career, preferring to shut herself off than feign interest, even in her fans. Cynthia Nixon is well-nigh perfect for this conception of Dickinson, her face waxen and severe but capable of cruel humor.

As the film wears on, the heavier shadow is cast by death, the thing that haunts all and which breeders can cheat via children but which, to cite Paglia again, gays can only cheat via culture. Like poems or movies. The film stylistically decays, the lighting going from bright and high-key to dark and morbid. We’re talking about a poet whose most famous poem is a literal greeting with death and a director who visualized his own death in an early short film. People start dying, Emily falls ill in scenes that recall the greatest of all films about death (CRIES AND WHISPERS). In one incredible sequence, people age 20 years in a series of snapshots In another shot, the camera literally plays the role of a death seducer, musically ascending the stairs, entering Emily’s bedroom and leaving her alone and dead.

Does any of this pattern sound familiar?

Davies on his homosexuality ... www.irishtimes.com/culture/film/being-gay-has-ruined-my-life-1.16328