Will the Real Nora Please Stand Up?

         There used to be a game show called To Tell the Truth, where three contestants claimed to be the same person and four celebrities questioned the contestants and then voted which one was the real person. It was funny when an imposter was more convincing than the actual person. I was reminded of this show when reading Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House (1879) and then watching the two 1973 movie versions, directed by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland respectively. Each actress (Jane Fonda and Claire Bloom) played the role of Nora a little differently and made me wonder, which is the real Nora Helmer?

         Nora #1 (in the book form of the play) is intelligent and witty. The reader understands the she is doing the best she can to be a good wife according to the conventions of the day. Nora and Torvald, her husband, play games of manipulation rather than to communicate as adults. Nora wants to help Torvald and knows he is too proud to accept it. She has borrowed money without Torvald's knowledge and is now struggling to make the payments. Nora is naïve regarding business and the law and is in over her head. Nora #1 is conflicted. She wants to be a strong woman who can stand on her own, and she also wants to keep her marriage as it is. I liked this Nora, especially when she finally decides to grow up and quit playing games.

         Nora #2 is played by Jane Fonda, and her Torvald is David Warner. This Nora is likeable, but she is not as naïve and protected as Nora #1. Nora #2 is comfortable out in the world and thinks she is in control. I did not get the feeling that Nora #2 would have hesitated to tell Dr. Rank, Trevor Howard, her problems. I think when the doctor professed his love, Nora #2 would have used it for her benefit. Nora #2 is a bit too worldly to think of her as playing house.

         Nora #3 is played by Claire Bloom. She is close to Ibsen's representation, but I found her to be cloying. Nora makes "cute" little noises when she attempts to persuade her Torvald, Anthony Hopkins. I found her mannerisms sickening. I did not believe she had enough independence to have carried out this scheme on her own. Nora #3 may have left Torvald, but she probably would not be gone for long.

         So who is the real Nora Helmer? Who will stand up? It has to be Nora #1; there is no other choice, since we knew from the start that she was the original. Jane and Claire gave it a good try and convinced some of the panel members, but I will stick with the Nora that I got to know when I read the play. Somehow the images that Ibsen creates with his words are more real than the portrayal on screen by Fonda and Bloom.

Lynne Gustafson

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