Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Reviews
Mike Nichols' spellbinding film drops all-time acting greats Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton right in the middle of a Shakespearean-grade study of alcoholism. Burton and Taylor spit daggers at one another, each sharper and shriller than the last - the sense of history and sheer bitterness between their characters evoking an air of authenticity seldom seen on screen.
But Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is much more than a showcase for some of cinema's best acting and bitterest dialogue. In fact, the note-perfect coupling of Taylor and Burton is but a bonus factor in a film that offers an eerie exploration of the link between drunkenness and insanity, punching as opposed to poking the creaky boundary between the two at every opportunity.
On the surface, Nichols' film is a piercing theatrical melodrama. Underneath, it is a psychological thriller, a ghost story, a black comedy, a brutal romance and more. In fact, one might argue that the film offers one of the richest, most honest and resonating commentaries on the age-old concept of true love that the screen has ever seen.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was not only controversial for its day (one of the movies that helped bury the Hayes Code) but also a wonderfully warped mind trip that is still shocking almost 50 years after the fact. The movie has multiple layers of depraved entertainment; it is a marriage farce, a battle of old time wits (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor at their most imprudent), a coarse perspective of relationship counseling, and of course, it has a plot twist so brutal, you'll never play games at the dinner table again. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has two things going for it: it's based on a play by Edward Albee (the best scripted films are always based on plays) and it's directed by Mike Nichols who has an enormous sensitivity when he's directing couples on screen. This PG rated drama is still the most disturbed thing you'll see in any given month.
What I Learned: I really think Edward Albee and Mike Nichols' creation is where I got some of my harsh and caustic wit. Of course, I always thought really disturbed and funny things in my own head, but until Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf I never knew it could be so deliciously fun to torment people with using only your quick-witted mind. There was great sadism in this sarcasm and it helped me realize there is no need to bite your tongue-at least not in art.
This pitch perfect masterpiece feels like a burning fuse; a bitter and angsty work of genius that is volatile and angry. Mike Nichols' stupendous direction has an omniscience to it that keeps things rolling along with ease.