WILD NIGHTS WITH EMILY
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)
CAPSULE: Emily Dickinson is usually portrayed as a sort of holy recluse who composed her poetry while living a life of quiet solitude. This semi-serious account of her private life suggests that there is little evidence to corroborate or contradict that interpretation of her emotional life. The film is kept on a speculative and frequently whimsical plane. This is just a light speculative biography that may have narrow appeal. Directed by: Madeleine Olnek; written by: Madeleine Olnek. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
My college undergraduate days I attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. There was something about the English department that it held itself in awe and respect for Emily Dickinson, the patron saint of local poetry, the mysterious poet who choose to be a recluse, living in her attic alone and devoting herself to writing very much admired poetry. I wondered as I watched the film what sort of reaction this film would get from the teaching staff of the English department. On one hand it is not often that one has a film devoted to their icon. On the other hand, this film interprets Dickinson's life and poetry in a somewhat irreverent interpretation very different from the usual images of Dickinson.
It is the premise of WILD NIGHTS WITH EMILY that Dickinson did have sexual relationships, though not with men. The film shows her close relation with her sister-in-law in conversations constituted of poetry each wrote for the other. Emily's emotional life is portrayed with the choice of certain poems. Emily's brother Austin married Susan Huntington Gilbert and she then became Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. The two Dickinson women, Emily and Susan, became fast friends and next-door neighbors. However much more than just friends they became is a speculation. Writer/director Madeleine Olnek speculates on Dickinson's relationship is a sort of satire on literary expose's in general.
It would be easy to view this film as just a comedy. Early on the viewers' impression of Dickinson and her friends is just a little too precious for the good of the film. Later it gets down to business, looking at the deep inner woman who was not so eccentric as she appeared. We never really get a good feeling for how Dickinson's gender formed the poet.
In the end one has to ask whether it really matters so much whether a poem was written to a man or a woman, gay or straight. If a poem is attuned to a particular emotion and a certain truth to it does it suddenly need to be reconsidered if it discovered it was written to or for a male or a woman or to a man? In fact, it apparently mattered to Dickinson's contemporaries. In her life the poet sold less than a dozen poems, mostly to the local newspaper. She is known to have written at least 1700.
Dickinson kept the content of her poems very private. Her use of language was very nearly a code to hide what many of the poems actually said, encrypted in obscure use of language. If she had much of any social life, she expressed her thoughts about it in verse. Emily does have some whimsical view of her own writing style. She points out where she avoids rhymes and that her meter is such so her poems can be sung to "Yellow Rose of Texas".
I rate WILD NIGHTS WITH EMILY a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Release date was April 12, 2019.
Film Credits: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5176580/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/wild_nights_with_emily
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2019 Mark R. Leeper