A Babe in Toyland

     In the beginning of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play, A Doll's House, Nora, the darling protagonist, is little more than an ineffectual housewife and plaything to her husband, Torvald; it is easy to dismiss her as silly and stupid. There are many reasons for her victimization, such as the society she lives in and her childhood; but, by the end of the play Nora transforms from a mere babe in toyland to Superwoman--at least, until the film makers got a hold of her.

     In the 1973 film A Doll's House, directed by Joseph Losey, Jane Fonda plays an erratic, overzealous version of Nora. Fonda so overplays the "sweet little skylark" (Ibsen 4) side of Nora that she completely destroys her credibility and ruins any chance that the audience will believe in the new Nora that emerges at the end of the play.

     It is also unfortunate that David Warner downplays Torvald so much that he comes off as indifferent. It scarcely seemed to me that he was enamored with his "little squirrel" (Ibsen 2). His lackluster performance and unemotional deliverance of lines obliterated the high-strung and condescending Torvald in Ibsen's play. Torvald should have sounded like a crotchety old grandmother cooing at a newborn in one of those annoying baby voices that embarrasses kids by the time they are old enough to resent it. Sadly, this film was a sorry enactment of the play.

     The 1973 film A Doll's House, directed by Patrick Garland, is much better but still no match for the play. Claire Bloom captures Nora more accurately and brought the character a little plausibility. Throughout the play she lays the groundwork for Nora's transformation at the end by not only appearing devious, but also by betraying her knowledge of their marital ruse in little ways. Anthony Hopkins does not capture my ideal Torvald; nonetheless, he still does a much better job than David Warner.

     Truly it takes a very tailored cast to pull off Ibsen's play. All of the subtleties must be presented, and only a precious few could pull it off. Nora, for instance, is the crux of the play and must be depicted perfectly. So, while I still prefer the play to either of the films, if I had to recommend one it would be the Patrick Garland version, in which Claire Bloom portrays Nora as the Superwoman I believe her to be.

Emily V. Williams

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