The Essence of Torvald

         To be perfectly honest, I have never liked Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play A Doll's House. I wholeheartedly believe that it is a classic work and worthy of the fame that has been bestowed on it. Ibsen was a fantastic playwright, and his genius is shown throughout the play. No, my dislike of the play merely comes from my dislike of Torvald. The character of Torvald Helmer is so patronizing and paternalistic to his lovely wife that I find myself fighting angry by the end of the play. I have never understood how a man can understand his wife so little.

         In the 1973 cinematic adaptation of A Doll's House, directed by Patrick Garland, Torvald Helmer (Anthony Hopkins) does justice to the original Torvald as written by Ibsen. Patronizing and paternalistic, he obviously wants to control everything his little Nora (Claire Bloom) does right down to what she can and cannot eat. But through all of the comments and remarks, it is still evident that he loves Nora very much. She is his pet but obviously a loved pet. One can see that Torvald's actions are out of a sort of misguided love. He believes that their marriage is perfect and that she is his beautiful "trophy wife." Although I dislike his character, I find myself almost feeling sorry for the poor chap when his world comes crashing down around him and he realizes that Nora is so much more than his pet. He becomes aware of his ignorance and begs Nora to stay swearing that he can change. Unfortunately, it is too little, too late. Nora has made up her mind, and she leaves him. Both Bloom and Hopkins do a fantastic portrayal of Ibsen's classic story.

         In yet another 1973 cinematic adaptation of A Doll's House, directed by Joseph Losey, Torvald Helmer (David Warner) differed quite a bit from my expectations. My poor, ignorant, misguided Torvald was instead portrayed as a rude, chauvinistic, alcoholic pig who cared for no one but himself. It was quite obvious that he did not love Nora (Jane Fonda) in the least. She was only his "trophy wife" and nothing more. He kept her around for her looks and to parade her around at parties to impress his friends. The disdain and downright contempt that oozed from him was enough to make any woman hate him. He acted this way not only towards Nora but towards her friend Christine (Delphine Seyrig) as well. Apparently, anyone who is friends with his wife is automatically beneath him. It comes as no shock when Nora decides to leave him. The only shock is that she has not left him before now.

         The essence of Ibsen's work was that the marriage between Torvald and Nora was between two people who loved each other but did not really know or understand each other. In the adaptation directed by Garland, we see Torvald as a misguided husband who loves his wife but does not understand her. The adaptation could have been directed by Ibsen himself, for it captures the essence of the story. In the adaptation directed by Losey, Torvald is a chauvinistic pig that cares nothing for his wife other than wanting her to show up at parties with him. It clearly misses the mark and shows that the director did not take the time to truly understand what the play was about.

A. Katherine Boyd

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