Anthony Hopkins serves to engulf the typical Victorian male, represented as Torvald Helmer, in Patrick Garland’s film A Doll’s House, based on Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll House. While reading A Doll House, it is apparent that Torvald Helmer is meant to be the foil of his wife Nora Helmer; shallow, overbearing, and demeaning. Before viewing the film A Doll’s House, I envisioned Nora to be a smaller, younger woman of the time. I imagined her hair to be pinned up, her dresses to be classy, and always the most beautiful woman in the room. Due to the fact that Helmer was written as the foil, I pictured him to be an older man, with the color grey overtaking his once dark hair. In the playwright A Doll House, Torvald Helmer appears to be extremely fond of his wife Nora Helmer, uncritical and adoring. For example, as soon as his wife returns from her trip to town, his written dialogue gives the impression that he is very excited to have her home, and happy to see her. This can be observed in the beginning of act one, when Helmer hears his wife from the study: “‘Is that my little lark twittering out there? … Is that my squirrel rummaging around?”’ (Ibsen 1106). Helmer has several nicknames for his wife, that of which I interpreted as terms of endearment early in the play. Yet, as I got deeper within the story, I became aware of the condescending manner in which Helmer uses the pet names. His constant comparison of Nora to a bird implies that she is scatterbrained, not as intelligent as he, skittish, clumsy, and nondescript. After a few moments, it becomes obvious that Torvald Helmer is not just a doting husband, but that he is more controlling, appearing to treat Nora as a father would a daughter when he disagrees with her actions. This ideology is even more visual in Patrick Garland’s film A Doll’s House. When reading Helmer’s pet names for his wife, it is difficult to pick up on the true intention they serve. However, when watching Helmer’s interaction with Nora, it is easy to comprehend just who Helmer is. By his body language, influx of voice, and other nonverbal communication, I was able to better interpret his character. As stated before, I believed him to be more affectionate and solicitous, until I was able to precisely see their characters interact with one another. Specifically, the scene demonstrating Nora practicing the “Tarantella Dance” particularly gave way to Helmer’s bone fide persona.
It is obvious Henrik Ibsen uses many symbols in his play A Doll House. One of them being the “Tarantella Dance,” beginning on the bottom of page 1137. The Tarantella is an old dance native to Southern Italy, mainly associated with tarantism, a mental illness characterized by an extreme impulsive desire to dance. The dance includes light, quick steps and teasing, overflowing with flirtatious behavior between the partners. Ibsen especially uses this dance to emphasize how Helmer treats Nora just like a doll, giving her a scene in which she just becomes a dancing inanimate object. While practicing the Tarantella, Nora is heavily displeasing Helmer by executing it wildly. He begins to critique her, “‘Slower. Slow Down… Not so violent, Nora!… No, no, that won’t do at all.”’ (Ibsen 1138). Reading this scene easily puts the reader on edge, but watching it better emphasizes the purpose of the dance. At first, before I had watched the film, I interpreted Helmer’s specificality to be another way of showing affection; he wants it to be perfect, not only for him, but for Nora as well. He just wants her to perform it well, and for her to feel good about her performance. During this specific scene in the film, I realized my initial interpretation was all wrong. Helmer and Dr. Rank use the Tarantella to objectify Nora, paying special attention to her superficial qualities. Nora is nothing more than a sexual object to Helmer, who maintains erotic fantasies towards her. He consistently dresses her up, encouraging her to dance around flirtatiously in order to arouse his sexual dreams. It wasn’t until I was able to watch this certain scene that I realized Ibsen’s intentions of implementing the dance.
In brief, Anthony Hopkins perfectly takes on the risky character of Torvald Helmer in Patrick Garland’s film A Doll’s House. My expectations for this character prior to seeing the film varied given the scene. At several points, Helmer appeared to be nothing but a doting husband, showing tremendous care for Nora. Still, Hopkins was able to portray the oppressive Victorian male and help me better understand Torvald Helmer as a whole, and come to the conclusion that he is in fact just the opposite of what I first imagined. Certain scenes directed by Garland serve to provide a new level of comprehension, allowing me to see just how Helmer and Nora act as foils. Specifically, the scene of Nora practicing the Tarantella dance opened my eyes to see Helmer in a new light I didn’t quite pick up on in the playwright. Obviously, being able to watch the actions of each actor engulfed in the environment and light around them, as well as their costumes, music, and make-up influenced my sense of Torvald Helmer greatly.
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