“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is about a very rare capability of a person in a position of a spouse to help his/her beloved to overcome internal psychological problem that permanently disrupts the emotional balance of their relationship inside marriage and makes their love unproductive, wasteful and vain. The film is also about a disturbance many marriages are afflicted by – when intimacy between a husband and wife is in the process of being undermined by their unconscious ontological rivalry. Thirdly, the film addresses the issue of the essence of American dream. Is it mainly about our social, professional and financial achievements, about success, or is it rather about our psychological and moral growth, about the very development of human humanistic intelligence? In other words, is the American dream in the area of the unique bonds between a husband and wife consists in the ability to feed personal relationship with material prosperity and money successes or is it about the meaning of human relations?

The central focus of “Who is afraid…” is the conflict between George (Associate Professor of History) and his wife Martha (Albee’s analogy here with George Washington and his wife Martha – makes a personal story historically and culturally meaningful and of interest not only to any married couple but for every American). The conflict between the spouses is inflated by Martha’s dream of having a perfect (not less than perfect) son (a dream made even more morbid by her infertility). This dream is tied to Martha’s disappointment in her husband’s failure to make an exceptional career (first, to become the head of history department and later take over her father’s position as the president of the university) and become financially much more successful. Albee analyzes the psychological and the social aspects of Martha’s dream based on what can be called her “perfect progeny complex” – the expectation from a child to boost his mother‘s self-image.

Through several rhetorical devices Albee masterfully creates a psychodrama with the viewers who while observing George and Martha‘s psychological maneuvers experience a catharsis of their own emotional complexes resonating with Martha’s psychological predicament. The film culminates in a unique in American film history scene, when George uses a sophisticated psychotherapeutic tactics of pseudo-exorcism to banish the idolatrous energies of his wife’s complex of a perfect progeny.

Richard Burton and Elisabeth Taylor triumphantly outstrip themselves as George and Martha in an exceptionally intense and intellectually articulate performance. Albee’s text is sharp, witty and full of versatile cultural allusions.

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Martha will not take advices from somebody with such a modest career as her husband George.

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For Martha her “American dream” realized in having a perfect son (“with blue hair and blond eyes”, according to George’s ironic remark), puts her proudly above not only her husband but any man desiring her company.

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Nick, guest of Martha and George, cannot just watch how they forgetting about their age and social status physically fighting and hurting each other, and tries to intervene.

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At the end of the film, after George’s ritual of pseudo-exorcism, Martha is psychotherapeutically transformed and became a normal human being (without megalomaniacal complex). But, please, don’t try to repeat George’s ritual at home – it can be dangerous.

Posted on 07 Jun 2012 –   Mike Nichols,1966 (based on Edward Albee’ play) – “Who Is Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” – A Polemical Drama about the Meaning of American Dream  by Acting-Out Politics