Get wisdom; get insight: do not forget, nor turn away
from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever else you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honour you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a fair garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.’
This tender tale about an aging novelist and an eager young admirer is a joy to watch, especially in that it gives us a career-capping performance by character actor Frank Langella. Leonard Schiller ( Langella)
has a weak heart and has been working on his fifth novel for over ten years. He still uses an old typewriter, and always puts on a tie. Once considered on a par with Salinger and Updike, he has receded into oblivion, his four novels no longer in print. Enter Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose), an ambitious graduate student in her mid twenties working on her masters thesis. Centered on Schiller’s novels, especially the first two, she dares to think that she can reawaken the interest of the literary world in his work again, and even inspire him to finish his current work.
Apparently fearful of her intense energy and keen scrutiny, he rebuffs her at first, but she persists. Finally giving in, he admits her into his life, and as the days go by with her questioning him, into his heart as well. At one point Heather reveals that it was Leonard’s novels that opened up life for her, literally changing her world. She also gets to know his daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor), an almost 40 year-old woman troubled by her relationship with Casey Davis (Adrian Lester). The two love each other, but on Casey’s terms: she desperately wants a child, he does not. Having broken up with him once before, she is torn over whether or not to continue their relationship.
Andrew Wagner, directing Fred Parnes’ screenplay based on the novel by Brian Morton, is restrained in showing what in lesser hands would have been one more winter-spring love affair. Both Leonard and Heather are as much in love with literature as with each other, hence the tentativeness in their touching and embracing. They show that intimacy is far more than stripping off clothes. Indeed the intimacy that this film celebrates is one of the mind and of the heart.
1) How is this film different from other films you have seen dealing with an older man and a younger woman? (The only one I can think of that is similar is the dying man and his young wife in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.)
2) Do you think that Leonard would really have finished his novel without Heather entering into his life—or was he merely marking time?
3) In what way are father and daughter alike? How are they both under the pressure of time?
4) What did you think of Heather’s claim that Leonard’s novel changed her life? Has a book had that impact on you? What one(s) do you remember, and how did they affect you?
5) What do you think of the resolution between Ariel and Casey? How is the decision of one of them show that the person has grown in maturity and love?
6) What do you see is the significance of the title? How is Leonard experience with Heather like a rebirth, a “starting out in the evening” ? (For a similar rebirth of very different persons and under very different circumstances, see The Visitor.)