Terence Davis’ A Quiet Passion is a quietly-radical biopic.
Concerned less with simply telling the narrative of Emily Dickinson’s life – thus avoiding the exploitive nature of the emotions easily elicited by such tried-and-true story structures – it instead focuses more on the genesis of her famously-espoused, wide-ranging beliefs, some expressed here in the judiciously-chosen poems narrated through voiceover that intermittently underscore the radiant imagery. Davis chronicles the events, interactions, and conversations that may have inspired her, conveyed largely through some of the most gorgeous dialogue of the year, especially for those like me who derive sheer pleasure simply from hearing English strung together exquisitely.
A Quiet Passion presents the ultimate paradox of many artists: her search for lasting meaning underneath life’s superficial and transient corporeality tortured her (captured in perhaps the most ingenious passage-of-time montages in recent years), but that pursuit inspired her to share literary revelations with the world. Since her words have provided so much comfort to so many people, does that justify her mortally-fleeting, quietly-passionate misery?
And I’d be remiss not to point out that Cynthia Nixon once again demonstrates she’s one of the greatest actors working today, turning in one of the best performances of the year. Jennifer Ehle may not have as strong of a body of work, but she stands toe-to-toe with Nixon throughout.