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Mortality: film, The Hours Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Dec 10th, 2019


Mortality is the main theme of the film, ‘The Hours.’ In this film, the main characters have suicidal thoughts because of the problems that they are facing in their lives. To them, suicide is the only way that they can solve the problems that they are facing.

This paper will therefore focus on the theme of mortality as presented in the film. It will expound on this theme under the natural law theory, Kantianism, utilitarianism, and the social contract theory. These analyses will bring a clear understanding of the actions taken by the characters of the film and their consequences.

Synopsis of the Plot

‘The Hours’ is a film that has three different time settings. The first set of the film focuses on Virginia Wolf in 1921. Suffering from a mental illness and severe nervous breakdown, Virginia is struggling to write her novel, Mrs. Dalloway.

Virginia is troubled and thinks that the life that she is living does not conform to her desires. It is at this point that she states that if she is to continue with her life, she has to come up with a decision on how and where she is going to live. However, given her medical condition and the fact that she does not even get the respect of her servants, she is sceptical about this and thus she is in constant fear that she might take away her life.

The second setting of the film focuses on Laura Brown in 1951. Laura is a homemaker in suburban America. She is married to Dan, who was a soldier in World War II. At the time, Laura was pregnant and has a son, Richie.

Although her neighbours and friends view them as a perfect family, Laura is not contended with the life that she is living. Thus, during Dan’s birthday of her husband, she takes Richie to a friend while pretending that she is going to run errands.

However, she checks into a hotel in an attempt to kill herself while reading the book by Virginia Wolf, ‘Mrs. Dalloway.’ However, she falls asleep and after waking up, she decides not to go ahead with her plan.

The final set of the movie focuses on Clarissa Vaughan in 2001. Clarissa is on the verge of organizing an award party for her long time friend, Richard who has been in several gay relationships and is suffering from AIDS. Other than their friendship, the two had been lovers during their college days.

Richard is not happy about the award he is about to receive since he thinks that he should have received it earlier, when he was much healthier.

However, he confesses to Clarissa that she is the only reason why he is alive and compares her with Mrs. Dalloway, the leading character in the book by Virginia Wolf because both of them are distracted from life and themselves. Shorty, Richard commits suicide by jumping out of the window.

Detailed Synopsis of the Moral Issue

The three characters presented in the film are surrounded by death. Virginia Wolf views death as the only way that she can solve the problems that she is facing in life. She is suffering from bipolar disorder, a condition that gives her severe nervous breakdowns.

Additionally, she is of an unstable mind. Due to this fact, she does not command the authority she would want as a wife to her husband and as an employer to her servants. In fact, her servants look down on her. Virginia sees herself as a failure. She is neither like her mother nor like her sister who have managed their households and lives in an effective and efficient manner.

Her mother and sister are also authoritative heads in their homes. Her failure to understand this and the fact that she has a medical condition always put her in constant fear that she might kill herself. In her book, the main character that she developed to present the woman she always wanted to be.

However, she is also not decided on whether the main character of the book would kill herself in the end. To some extent, this can be viewed as the battles that Virginia had with life. Eventually, Virginia Wolf committed suicide by drowning herself in 1941.

Laura Brown on the other hand is a housewife in America. She is married to Dan, a World War II veteran. Her reason for getting married is to fulfil the obligation that she owed to Dan and to the world, as it is a moral obligation for one to get married. Despite this, she is torn in her marriage.

She therefore thinks that it is her duty to become a wife to a man who has come from war, a war that saved the world from perishing. It is with regards to this that she owes her family the duty of care.

However, looking at her marriage, her children, and the house that she is living in, Laura feels detached from her personal desires as well as life itself. It is at this point she decides to kill herself by overdosing on sleeping pills. However, she is unable to continue with her suicidal plan and decides to live although her life is miserable.

Unlike the other characters, Clarissa does not have suicidal thoughts. However, she feels empty and confused. First, her long time friend, Richard is dying from AIDS. She is the only person that makes an impact in his life. However, Richard goes ahead and kills himself probably as a result of not achieving his goals in life and his medical condition.

While in her house, Clarissa starts to question the choices that she has made in her life. She does not know whether it is the right choice to live with another woman since she is a lesbian. The memories that she has while she was in a relationship with Richard back in college is the reason all this.

Her house is also fully furnished. While looking at her plates, which she bought, she could not help but realise that if it were a man who had bought them, then she would have been more satisfied. Just like the other two characters, the challenges that they are facing in life are affecting the decisions that they make.

However, is it morally right to end your life to escape troubles in life? Is it okay to be involved in same sex relationships? Is it moral to let your family suffer at your expense? These are some of the questions that affect the decision making process of these characters.

Moral View Analysis

The main moral issue presented in this film is the theme of mortality. The main characters that have been presented in this film had suicidal thoughts or experienced the suicide of an individual who is close to them. According to the natural law, reason is explicitly used to infer human nature.

In accordance with this theory, morality is regarded as a function of human nature. Therefore, the decisions and reasons that guide human action are expected to be in line with the moral principles of humanity. Therefore, it is innate for an individual to know what is right and wrong and it is the obligation of an individual to always try to do the right thing.

This is what defines morality according to this theory. Murder of any form is always considered as immoral in any society. Thus, it was immoral for Virginia and Laura to contemplate about suicide despite the challenges that they might have been facing in life.

Furthermore, it was also immoral for Virginia and Richard to commit suicide to escape the troubles they were facing as death has profound effects to the family, friends and the society. These individuals should have this sought other ways that would not have a negative impact on themselves, their loved one and the society to deal with their problems.

Kantianism on the other hand concentrates on the actions or duty of an individual within a society instead of their emotional contexts and the consequences of their actions. This ideology focuses on the intentions and motives behind an action. Therefore, since man is always rational, the decisions that he/she makes should always benefit him and the people around him.

However, the decisions made by the main characters in this film can be deemed as irrational since they had an evil motive and the acts were driven by emotions. For instance, after killing herself, the family of Virginia suffered a lot.

The book that she had left behind, ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ played a critical role in encouraging Laura to kill herself, although she did not. However, by neglecting her son, Richie (Richard), ends up being gay and suffering from AIDS. The death of Richard frustrates Clarissa, making her to doubt her life and her sexuality. Thus, the suicidal thought of one individual has had an impact on the lives of many people seventy years down the line.

Utilitarianism on the other hand purports that the desired direction of action is the one that maximizes overall happiness. As such, the actions of Virginia are not in accordance with this theory as the results of her actual and intended consequences are characterised with sorrow and not joy. Her death definitely was a huge blow to her family, close friends and many other people.

Laura on the other hand contemplates about killing herself without thinking the effect that her death might have on her unborn baby, Richie and Dan. However, she makes a wise decision to let go her plan for the sake of her family.

Clarissa on the other hand offers her support to Richard who acknowledges her presence although he is dying from AIDS. Even though he killed himself later, she played an important life in making him happy during his last moments on earth.

For the authority within the society to respect the rights and privileges of an individual, he/she needs to submit some of his/her rights to the state. This is the basis of the social contract theory. Therefore, we are all governed under the same rules and regulations that respect our rights and freedoms.

In all societies, murder is an illegal act punishable by law. Therefore, by killing themselves, Virginia and Richard went against the social contract they had with the state. If their attempts had failed and this act would have been reported to the authorities, Virginia and Richard would have been prosecuted by the state.


The theory of Kantianism clearly presents the issue at hand. By being rational, individuals always chose live over death. Therefore, the act of killing someone or committing suicide is immoral in nature. Individuals should strive to live and come up with effective solutions to their problems. These solutions should not have negative impacts on the individual as well as the society.


Morality is a virtue that should be embraced in society. Most moral values are innate in humanity, thus we should always make the right decisions in life. Murder and suicide is immoral in any society and it should be avoided at all costs. Individuals who have such thoughts should always seek advice and counselling from friends, peers, and family to ensure that we have a sustainable society that is based on morality.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Mortality: film, The Hours." December 10, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/mortality-film-the-hours/.


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