Happy Days

Happy Days, 2000, 80 minutes
Director: Patricia Rozema 
Script: Samuel Beckett
Cinematography: Andre Pienaar
Cast: Rosaleen Linehan, Richard Johnston
Producers: Michael Colgon & Alan Moloney

Considered Beckett's most cheerful play, Happy Days features a middle-aged couple with the woman increasingly buried in a mound of sand. It opens with Winnie, an incurable optimist of about 50, 'embedded up to her waist in the exact centre of mound.' Winnie's husband, Willie, appears only occasionally from his tunnel behind the mound. This does not hinder Winnie in talking to him while he reads his newspaper and is sporadically provoked to reply. Only the back of his bald head is visible, or he is out of sight with very little to say for himself only emerging fully at the end.

Winnie's opening words 'Another heavenly day' sets the tone for the entire monologue which carries right through until she can no longer busy herself with the contents of her enormous beloved handbag which serve as her comfort and diversion through the first half of the film. Her monologue is full of verbal and visual running gags such as when she tries to read the text on her toothbrush handle only being able to make out 'fully guaranteed genuine pure' and not the rest of the phrase until she deciphers 'hog's setae' (bristle). This prompts her to demand of her almost invisible husband. 
         
WINNIE: What is a hog, Willie, please!

WILLIE: Castrated male swine. (Happy expression appears on WINNIE'S face.)
Reared for slaughter. (Happy expression increases)

Overjoyed by this scrap of communication and contact Winnie declares 'Oh this is a happy day! This will have been another happy day!'

Winnie faithfully follows the routine of the day - praying, brushing her teeth, reminiscing about the past ('the old style'), endlessly trying to recall' unforgettable lines' which she has once read ("something, something laughing wild amid severest woe").

Winnie is the opposite of all those chronic complainers on whom Beckett elsewhere lavishes so much sympathy.  If she closes her eyes a "bell that cuts like a knife" wakes her.  Eventually her implacably optimistic manner is interrupted by grief ("forgive me, Willie, sorrow keeps breaking in").  The final ten minutes reveal a shocking turn in character and provide one of the most brutal and tender moments in all of Beckett's work.

 

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