I watched "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" on Turner Movie Classics on Saturday night. What a movie and what acting! I marveled at the amount of dialogue all the actors had to learn and how believably they delivered those lines. It was like watching a play. I'm not sure there are many famous actors today who could do this as well as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
There was so much drinking by the characters that I felt drunk vicariously! The intensity of the dialogue was exhausting. However the symbolism of the movie was intriguing also. Today's movie going audiences would be completely bored by this movie which has no special effects, long scenes, depends solely on character development and constant dialogue and the actor's intensity.
I doubt that today's movie going audiences could even get into the symbolism of the movie which is powerful.
The movie also had some Christian symbols in it. You can read the entire symbolism of the movie HERE. The following is just one segment (my concluding comments follow):
Christian RitualsThroughout the play there are several Christian symbols as well. The chiming of doorbell is much like the chiming of bells at a Catholic mass. Also, the entire play takes place on a Sunday. George also shows off his Catholic chanting skills when he intones Kyrie Eleison and the Dies Irae, both part of the Requiem. Act 3 is called "The Exorcism," which is the Catholic practice that supposedly evicts demons or evil spirits from a person or home. The spirit in question in Act 3 is George and Martha's "son."
All this Christian imagery appears to be centered around the "death" of this imaginary son. One hint of this is when Martha refers to the boy as "Poor lamb" (3.343). This would seem to set the son up as a kind of Christ figure, as Jesus is sometimes called the Lamb of God. Christians believe that Jesus' crucifixion was a sacrifice deemed necessary by God. Jesus had to die to take away the sins of mankind.
In a way, George and Martha's son is sacrificed just like Jesus. It's as though the son's death is the only way that George and Martha can find salvation. It's probably no accident that George makes reference to an "Easter pageant" (3.220) as he's revving up for the sacrifice. Easter is the day that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion. Of course, George is determined to never let his son be resurrected.
The fact that Albee uses Christian symbolism in an absurdist play is deeply ironic. After the son is sacrificed at the climax of the play, George and Martha certainly don't feel the love of a benevolent God flowing all around them. On the contrary, they've lost their last illusion and now must face the absurd meaninglessness of life. The play seems to view this loss of illusion as a tough but ultimately necessary thing. What do you think?
My final comments: In 1966 most Christians and certainly all Catholics would have been familiar with the traditional Latin Requiem Mass. Today only a handful of Catholics would know about it and no other Christians. If this movie were made in the setting of today's Catholic Church, what lines from the "Mass of Christian Burial" would he read in English? Would he substitute the texts with the banal hymns that are heard at most Catholic funerals today like the "You Who" song, "You who dwell in the presence of the Lord..." (Eagle's Wings) or "Be Not Afraid" or some other such ditty. And certainly Richard Burton wouldn't be able to recite the "Dies Irae" even in English since it has been expunged from the Funeral Mass.
Think also about the pre-Vatican II Baptismal scene in the "Godfather." This had culture-wide appeal in this movie with the interspersing of the Latin parts of the Baptismal ritual and the scenes of violence ordered by the godfather who responded to those parts. I'm not sure there could be the same dramatic effect with the modern Baptismal ritual in English.
What does this tell us about the Latin Liturgy of the Catholic Church prior to Vatican II? It had broad appeal, captured the imagination and had depth to it that artists writing plays and movies could use and effectively so to show irony and symbolism. There are very few play-writes and authors who would turn to today's modern Catholic rituals for the same dramatic effect.