This article explores Stephen Daldry's The Hours (US/UK, 2002) as a feminist and queer meditation on the dilemma of marriage. An important queer-authored crossover film in the tradition of the family melodrama and the woman's film, The Hours offers a considered return to the iconic cultural form of the white middle-class nuclear family in a context where norms of heterosexual family and conjugal life are at once firmly entrenched and widely contested. Largely overlooked in film criticism, The Hours is characterized by its baroque and generative temporality and intertextuality that contribute to a nuanced meditation on women's experience of conjugal and family life. While much of the literature on melodrama draws on psychoanalysis and theories of spatiality, this article develops three distinct yet interrelated temporal and affective readings: Mikhail Bakhtin's dialogism and Virginia Woolf's modernist “moment of being”; the performativity of gender and kinship (Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick); and theories of queer time and affect (Judith Halberstam, Elizabeth Freeman, Lauren Berlant). These readings probe The Hours's return to mediated cultural ideals of white conjugal and family life across time through the prism of feminist and queer cultural production and critique. Daldry's film is treated as a dense and fascinating work in itself, but it is also read against a small but influential cycle of recent queer-authored melodramas: Far from Heaven (dir. Todd Haynes, US, 2002), Savage Grace (dir. Tom Kalin, Spain/US/France, 2007), and A Single Man (dir. Tom Ford, US, 2009). Released at a historical conjuncture when queer debates about marriage and conjugal life are deeply polarized, these works share an ambivalent and stylized fascination with the white bourgeois family melodrama that is at once problematic and generative. I situate the film at the crossroads of two complementary and sometimes contradictory genealogies: the “thinking woman's film,” engaged with female subjectivity and authorship belonging to an influential white liberal feminist genealogy, and the genealogy of queer, white male – authored melodrama.

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