February 18, 2012

Albert Nobbs: A tale of two women shifting through gender

Why hello there gender blenders,

**The review of Albert Nobbs below contains light spoilers.**

I've read numerous reviews of Albert Nobbs, but as I sat blinking the rush of post-film lights out of my eyes, I keenly realized how pale a portrait those reviews painted of Albert Nobbs (Glen Close), and even more so in the case of Hubert Page (Janet McTeer). Furthermore, the friendship between Nobbs and Page is mysteriously glossed over and ignored, despite it being indispensable to Nobbs' moments of epiphany.

Nobbs' gender bending completely isolates her--the fear of discovery pushing her into a kind of stasis of work, secret money counting, and the unrealized dream of her own shop. She has learned it is dangerous to be a woman, so she stunts herself into he. She flails into a cowering terror when she is discovered by a chance visitor-turned-roommate, the house painter Hubert Page. Page is disgusted, not because Nobbs is a woman, but rather with the state of her terror. Several awkward scenes follow in which Nobbs tries to ensure Page will not tell, which culminate in Page opening her shirt to reveal her breasts and that she too is a woman. It is at this moment that we begin to compare the two women-as-men as foils of each other.

Hubert Page (McTeer) & Albert Nobbs (Close)

Even the scene in which Page reveals herself to Nobbs is a sharp contrast to Nobbs panicking after a flea and accidentally giving herself away. Page casually glances around and opens her shirt like it's nothing. There is no strictly confining corset, just several layers of bulky clothes. She utterly changes Nobbs' world in a downstairs room of the hotel, not in a locked bedroom by accident. Nobbs is sent into a whirlwind of realizations--that she is not alone, that she does not have to be a solitary woman-as-man against the whole world. Page is married, and "her name is Cathleen."

It is Page's confidence, her happiness with her wife Cathleen, and her ability to forge an identity that is authentic to her own sense of self that so intrigues Nobbs, and ultimately gives her hope that she too can make her own haven--a haven with another woman.

Albert Nobbs lets us glimpse the lives of two very different women living as men in 19th century Ireland. As their paths cross, we see an unusual relationship form--a true foiling in which our understanding of each woman is deepened through our knowledge of the other.