Empathy versus Apathy

         The roles of protagonist and antagonist in literature are most always well defined and designated solely to those characters portray in such qualities. In the 1973 films A Doll's House, directed respectively by Joseph Losey and by Patrick Garland, Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins) and wife, Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom), made it difficult to decipher between the two.

         Joseph Losey's version of this classic story presents Nora (Jane Fonda) as a very loving and selfless woman married to a business-driven, relatively conceited man, Torvald (David Warner). Throughout the film Nora works affectionately and steadily to please Torvald; and in return, he treats her with money and gifts. His affection for her is almost fictitious, as he treats her more like a trophy than a wife and mother to his children. Patrick Garland portrays a very different dynamic between the two. Nora (Claire Bloom) comes onto the screen almost neurotic with her false boastings about her love and marriage, not to mention her unsustainable hunger for money and material things. Torvald (Anthony Hopkins) is still business-oriented but appears much more charismatic and affectionate towards Nora. The two versions of this film are already in contrast.

         As the story continues, Losey maintains a very compromising, empathetic Nora, while Garland continues to develop the selfish and anxious Nora we have watched since the beginning of the film. Both Torvalds also maintain their parallel character roles. The real defining moment comes at the end of both films. Without getting ahead of myself, it is fair to say that both Torvalds lose control as a result of Nora's deception and lies. Both Noras are mistreated in the heat of their arguments; however, the outcomes are what separate and contrast these two films more than anything.

         Losey does such a good job at recognizing Torvald's neglect and emotional disregard towards Nora, that it becomes more than understandable for her to leave him in the end. Their final conversation together is completely in Nora's favor, and her desire for liberation is felt so strongly by the audience, that even leaving her children behind is condonable.

         Garland, however, has depicted such a darker Nora, that the audience feels more apathy than empathy towards her by the end of the film. Here, Torvald is much more surprised by Nora's decision to leave him. Nora attempts to convince Torvald that her decision to leave is justifiable, but she ultimately fails. Throughout the film, Torvald seemed much more motivated by his "loving" wife and family than his own hedonistic desires. Nora, meanwhile, seemed to focus entirely on herself. Perhaps it is this underlying dynamic that weakens Nora's reason for leaving her husband and naïve children. Acting could have influenced the audience's perception of the characters, but ultimately it was both directors' emphasis on emotions, intentions, and especially actions.

Michael Moreland

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