Glenn Close gives a screen-acting masterclass in ‘The Wife’
Glenn Close in “The Wife”
If you took the script for “The Wife” at face value, without a title page, it would likely read as “The Nobel Prize Winner”—a story about a male literary titan whose professional and personal flaws come home to roost as he accepts the biggest honor of his career.
But it’s Björn Runge’s direction and Glenn Close’s Oscar-worthy central performance that make the film’s title apt.
The Swedish director’s filmmaking may never be flashy—playing out in rooms between two or three characters in a way that could easily translate to the stage—but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of what cinematic language is really, truly all about.
It’s more than just documenting what’s on the page, telling a clear narrative, or wowing moviegoers with some signature visual flair. At its core, film language creates a story through what’s seen rather than what’s said. Fundamentally, it’s about shot choices. Those choices create a point of view, a perspective. That perspective is the story.
Here, the center of attention is the man, but the shots—and the story—are about the woman.
When Glenn Close is the focus of those shots, she can tell you the real story, even when her dialogue masks it. She may not spill all of the details, but she communicates the full emotional weight and psychosomatic damage of an entire personal history.
Hell, with someone of her caliber, Close doesn’t even need to say a word; and in some of her best, most piercing moments—which start early and recur often—she doesn’t.
Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce, “Game of Thrones”) is a legendary author whose celebrated work and personal charisma have garnered him fame. Glenn Close plays his devoted wife, Joan, who has foregone her own literary ambitions in order to raise their two kids and support his talents.
Joan’s repressed sacrifices, her personal identity most prominent among them, finally rise to the surface on a trip to Stockholm where Joe will be given the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Joan can no longer play the role of dutiful spouse but not because of some need for validation. Joe’s narcissism has taken its toll, now augmented on the grandest global stage. His fraudulent self-import has made a farce of the truth—the limits of his actual talents; the accommodations she’s made to foster his reputation—in a way that only they know.
The arc follows familiar beats (public facades, private resentments, explosive confrontations) but in uncharacteristically complex ways. There is genuine love between them, and Joan hasn’t simply been bullied into this life; she’s made conscious choices. Joe is not dismissive or patriarchal, either, but he lacks self-awareness and his ego is fragile. He’s taken her for granted, too, and as the film unfolds, we learn by just how much.
The rest of the cast doesn’t match Close and Pryce—including Christian Slater, who’s merely serviceable as a shady, interloping biographer—but they don’t need to. And if Close goes on to win her first Academy Award, it’d be especially fitting for this role. When it comes to her status as a multi-nominated Oscar bridesmaid, Glenn Close has been ignored for way too long.