Deus ex Machina Reborn

         In Greek tragedies, especially Euripides’ plays, plot devices are used to create a “deux ex machina” ending (the Latin phrase that translates “god out of a machine”). These stories are actually criticized for such grandiose escapes from strings of crumbling, hopeless situations in the rising action of the play. Even modern authors use “deux ex machina” endings such as Henrik Isben’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House. Yet, in this specific case, the device, usually deemed as negative, is used positively to create a shocking and successful conclusion. However, the film adaptation (A Doll’s House #1), directed by Patrick Garland in 1973, does not effectively preserve this ending, while the other film adaptation (A Doll’s House #2), directed by Joseph Losey, also in 1973, does succeed. The success or lack there of can be solely attributed to the character of Torvald.

         In the film A Doll’s House #1, the actor Anthony Hopkins plays Torvald Helmer. He effectively bears a very condescending tone towards the antics of his wife, Nora (Claire Boom), in fact maybe too directly; for it is the passive aggressive treatment of Torvald towards his wife that makes the play’s dialogue so great. Yet, Hopkins, who usually has a very serious demeanor as an actor, appears to lack the subtly and grace that is usually coupled with his patronizing ways. This serious demeanor also prevents Hopkins from creating the horribly blissful drunk scene after the party. Yet, mainly, what takes away from the “deux ex machina” ending is his violence. After the confession of Nora, Torvald goes absolutely crazy, knocking over items in the room and throwing a tantrum, almost to a humorous point. Yet, the apex of his violence comes when he slaps Nora and throws her around. This film adaptation really emphasizes the temper in Torvald, and I can see it in Anthony Hopkin’s eyes at the start of the movie. This temper and violence, though, gives the audience a truly justifiable basis for Nora leaving Torvald, which takes away from the shock of Nora’s leaving.

         However, in A Doll’s House #2, Torvald Helmer (David Warner) lacks the violent nature that Anthony dormantly possesses throughout the movie. Warner’s Torvald still has a condescending tone, which is necessary in the plot, yet it is delivered with such delicacy that, as a result, it can be tolerated. Even better, it is sharpest type of condescending, for when a comment is said, the receiver first finds it to be charming, but after reflection asks, “Was that an insult or a compliment?” Therefore, the realization of this passive aggressive criticizing is so delayed, that one is never quick enough to fight back. In addition, David Warner still has very likable qualities and seems to be an all around good-natured man. Yet, his ignorance of his fluff of a marriage is his downfall, as well as his selfish nature. Because of his charming qualities, the audience is able to believe he really loves Nora, and he appears to treat her well, other than the obvious. Hence, the drunken scene is hilariously pulled off by David Warner, because the whole movie he holds such a professional, banker-like aura that does not tolerate such reckless behavior that comes along with alcohol. Yet, there he appears after the party, lacking the social grace of moderating one’s honesty, and boldly stating his opinions of Christine Linde (Delphine Seyrig) to her face. In addition, making Nora leave the party early, he is horny and does not make it a secret. Yet, when the truth of the loan comes to light, Torvald does react with anger, but not violently like Anthony Hopkins does. Instead, what is revealed is his truly selfish ways, only wanting Nora when she is on good terms with him and not jeopardizing his image.

         Due to this lack of violence in A Doll’s House #2, the audience is so shocked that Nora creates a scandalous ending by leaving Torvald. This is so because she has no justifiable reasons in court to divorce him, such as violent abuse, and this surprise is what the play intended to arise. For Torvald is a loving husband who takes care of Nora and provides for her. On the surface, the marriage is perfect, so much so that Nora and Torvald even fool themselves. Yet, the whole drama of the loan shatters that image and becomes the catalyst for Nora realizing her feminist call to find herself and not base her identity on a man. Because of this shock, the second film adaptation successfully creates a “deus ex machina” ending while the first adaptation does not.

Sarah Landolt

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