Not Your Mother’s Emily Dickinson

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Wild Nights with Emily
Directed by Madeleine Olnek

 

“Wild” is a relative term in this reenactment of a time when a glimpse of stocking was something shocking and people conversed in a formal language full of euphemisms and codes, and in complete sentences. That said, this Emily Dickinson iswild relative to the image you probably have of the dreary recluse who squirreled her poems away in desk drawers or even (as I was taught) in the walls of her house. In this version, with Molly Shannon starring as the Belle of Amherst, Ms. Dickinson actively tries to get her poetry published (it’s largely rejected as too strange); enjoys horsing around with her nephew and two nieces; and doesn’t merely pinefor Susan as an object of desire.

         In fact, the film is almost as much about Susan as it is about Emily, as Susan is the woman in the middle with a complicated situation on her hands. While terminally in love with Emily, she is married to Emily’s brother Austin—an arrangement that she contrived so as to be close to Emily—with whom she has three children, who figure out early on what their mother and aunt are up to, just as Susan is aware that her husband is having a fling with the maid. Dickinson’s poetry gets a bit of an airing—enough to remind us just how layered in metaphor any feelings or desires are in her verse. A light moment occurs when the characters sing one of her poems to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” as can be done with many of her poems. Molly Shannon does a nice job portraying Emily as an affable if eccentric genius whose creativity and rebelliousness were not confined to the written word.

 

This film was shown at the Provincetown International Film Festival in June.

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