Director Björn Runge's slow-burn marital-implosion drama The Wife explores a sad cliché: the literary titan whose wife is the real talent, trapped on the periphery of craft conversations, never asked their opinion. This is a portrait of a decades-long partnership coming to a head but also of the American literary community reckoning with what so many know to be true: Women are still not seen as "serious" writers or contenders for major prizes. And men can’t keep their hands off their young students.
Glenn Close plays Joan Castleman, spouse of novelist superstar and cheesy James Joyce-quoter Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), whom we meet when the Nobel committee calls to inform him he has won the prize. Joe profusely thanks "my wife" (always with that qualifier) for being his rock. A persistent journalist named Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater) suspects there’s more to Joe Castleman's literary legacy. He plies the cautious Joan with alcohol then needles her with questions about her rumored role in her husband’s work, all while Joan’s eyes sparkle with fear and need.
In one scene, as Joe accepts his award, we’re treated to long shots of Close watching from the audience, her expression shifting from joy to panic and then to regret. It brings to mind the iconic, slow, four-minute push-in shot on Nicole Kidman in Jonathan Glazer’s Birth. Very few filmmakers are brave enough to trust their actors to indicate such a major plot point using only microscopic facial muscle movements. Credit for that bravery should be shared with Anderson as well. Novel adaptations so often express a character’s interiority through artificial means, such as expository dialogue, but Anderson tamps down those impulses.