Thoughts on the biopic Hemingway and Gellhorn

I am supremely embarrassed to say that, before I saw a preview for the film Hemingway and Gellhorn, I had never heard of Martha Gellhorn. Which is a crying shame, because she was just the kind of writer that I used to search for when I was younger and had more time to read – somebody who skillfully wrote, in both fiction and nonfiction, about her life and times.

Jim and I watched the film last night, and although it has its share of flaws, we both thought that, on the whole, it was a very interesting and watchable film. The two leads, Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn, were, I thought, excellent. The technique of filming their personal scenes in color and their experiences in Spain and Norway and Normandy in a combination of color and black & white (so that the actors could fade into the historic footage) was done quite effectively. They spoke as they wrote, in dramatic and occasionally ridiculous rhetoric — rhetoric that wasn’t seen as ridiculous at the time.

In fact, the problems we had with the film was that it wasn’t long enough. For one thing, there were episodes in it that we wanted more information about — the invasion of Finland by the Soviet Union, for example.

But what most struck us was an incongruity: a biopic about a woman (and it was, for the most part, from her point of view) who said that she had no intention of "being a footnote in someone else's life," and who continued to write as a war correspondent into her old age — and yet the film stops when her relationship with Hemingway does. It’s as if the makers of the film wanted to show how she was more than Ernest Hemingway’s friend, lover and wife; but then decided that we, the audience, couldn’t be interested in her adventures alone. They explain how she does not allow herself to be defined by others — and then it defines her by her relationship with her better-known husband.

So now I think I’d better find some of her books and see what Martha Gellhorn was really about. 

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