Review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)


Directed by: Mike Nichols | 126 minutes | drama | Actors: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis, George Segal

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? “Is, of course, best known as Edward Albee’s play. The film (which, incidentally, was released only a few years after the play first came out) is also considered of great historical value, because it was precisely this film that revolutionized the rating of films. The direct, mean and coarse language and the sometimes quite explicit sexual allusions in the dialogues caused quite a stir. But it would be a shame if the movie “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Is considered historically significant just for that reason. Because “Who’s Afraid …” is a great movie in every way. Script, dialogues, drama, the actors, the direction, the film work: all aspects on which a film is judged are more than sufficient in this film. And that is even more clever when it is considered that director Mike Nichols made his directorial debut here.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” tells the story of the couple George and Martha: two people who have grown together in such a way that they no longer seem to be able to live without each other, but they are actually even less able to live with each other. They are each other’s leeches: they constantly play a game in which they try to outdo each other. With apparently the rowdy and vulgar Martha (an ideal role for Elizabeth Taylor) as the constant winner. Actually, both Martha and George themselves are disappointed with George. Once a promising scientist who was destined to take over the rectorship from his father-in-law, but after all these years he is still not head of the (how appropriate…) History Faculty. The young and handsome biologist (also no coincidence) Nick, and his weak wife (“Honey”) seem to Martha the ideal audience to further publicly humiliate George.

But the film is not that predictable. The nighttime hour and the abundance of booze take their toll on all four people, but especially the roles and interests of George and Martha turn out not to be nearly as clear as they themselves seem to believe. Does Martha really want to get rid of George? And why does the eloquent George remain so passive? Are there any hidden agendas? All those questions and ambiguities, and especially the mysterious and sensitive role played by the absent son of George and Martha, make “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” a film that is literally and figuratively food for psychologists. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” shows, though dramatized, how incredibly complicated people are: for themselves and perhaps even more for each other. Dreams, ambitions, lies and half-truths and especially time make relationships a complicated process in which people hurt each other precisely because they love each other in some distorted way.

The viewer sees the four characters in a kind of psychological roller coaster constantly fly out of the corner, become nauseous and change positions among themselves. With a great and surprisingly subdued climax at the end. Anyone who dares to go on this roller coaster will from now on fall asleep at any random soap opera. No, for the real soap stories you still have to go to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

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