• Publication date: January 25, 2010

Iris Iris

Both a professor of philosophy and one of the most important literary figures ...

Both a professor of philosophy and one of the most important literary figures of the twentieth-century, Iris Murdoch led a fascinating life of immense creativity, social experimentation and in her final years devastating mental deterioration. “Iris,” is a biopic exploring Murdoch’s life as a whole and shifts between periods of her youth, ascension to fame and the fated onset of Alzheimer's disease that would end her brilliant writing career. The picture is inspired by Iris’ husband John Bayley’s memoirs entitled “Iris” and “Iris and the Friends.” Bayley, whose childlike innocence often made him submissive to his wife, was forced into an authoritative role and as Iris’ caretaker, he witnessed the effects of Alzheimer's firsthand, sorrowfully observing a once staunchly independent woman transform into complete dependence. The writer who once penned philosophically rich works of fiction, with an infatuation for words, was seemingly reverted into a young child, entertained by television programs designed for youngsters rather than intellectuals. Worse yet for Iris, her once dictionary-like mind was unable to retrieve the right word and at one point she fails to recognize one of her own books, which she wrote just a short time before. Despite that, however, the film is not an entirely dreary affair and early on viewers are introduced to the young Iris and Bayley, then two students at Oxford in the 1950s. While Iris is a free-spirited and sexually adventurous writer, convinced of her ultimate success, John is a quiet and humble lecturer, whose contrasting personality compliments Iris’ perfectly. Remarkably, Bayley manages the stresses of his wife’s illness with overall grace, only expressing his frustration and anger once throughout her final 10 years. Critics have frequently mentioned the picture’s failure to trek inside the author’s mind, or her creative process; these individuals are often fans of Iris’ work, and naturally are less interested in aspects of the author they are already familiar with. Iris was a success on the award circuit, earning both an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Considering its conservative budget of approximately $5 million, this is an even more impressive achievement. Financially the picture was also a success – again considering its budget, and it’s arguably niche audience – earning more than three times its budget with a total of $16 million worldwide.