June 16 is Bloomsday — the day during which all the events of James Joyce’s massive novel Ulysses take place. The author chose this date to commemorate his first outing with his life partner and eventual wife, Nora Barnacle. He also modeled the sexually frank character of Molly Bloom in Ulysses after Nora. So it seems appropriate to review this eponymous movie about their meeting and early years on this day.
Jim is a tortured artist and paranoid bastard. Nora is mostly along for the ride (aka, the sex) and didn’t realize he would have so much baggage. While the movie Nora is named after James Joyce’s wife, her character is an enigma, more of a lens through which we see Joyce, the brilliant writer of such modern classics as The Dubliners and Ulysses. Yet, the writer reflects their relationship and life in his deeply autobiographical work. So it’s a vicious cycle that she’s caught in.
The movie is hard to watch at times because of how twisted and complex their love story was, but it does have some highlights including:
1. Good historical hairstyles — Nora has her hair up unless she’s wearing her nightgown, undies, or nothing at all. Take note, every other historical costume movie that has a shocking lack of hairpins! No matter how squalid the living situation or how casual the outfit may be, Nora is a woman of her time, and in 1904, a grown-ass woman put her hair up.
2. Real Irish accents — Susan Lynch, who plays Nora, has a genuine Irish accent. Ewan McGregor as James is Scottish, and his accent isn’t bad. Compared to some other productions (ehem, Billie Piper in Penny Dreadful), this is an improvement.
3. Inclusion of Joyce’s musicality — The writings of James Joyce owe as much to his understanding of and love for music as his love of language. This film includes him singing, both solo and with Nora, and playing guitar. McGregor does a nice job!
4. Historically accurate body hair — We’ve mentioned a few times in podcasts about women (and sometimes men) in historical costume movies being shaved in a very 20th/21st-century fashion in the pubic region. Not so in Nora. There’s one clear image of a luxuriant, natural Susan Lynch’s crotch during a sex scene, and a full scene showing her unshaved armpits. Removing body hair for women wasn’t even known until at least 1915 and wouldn’t have been common until later, so good on this movie for showing the real deal.
5. Hot mutual masturbation scene! — Yeah, I saved the best for last. About halfway through the movie, Jim and Nora, while separated, read each other’s dirty letters to themselves and jerk off. Before sexting, this is how long-distance relationships survived. Plus, it’s historically accurate; they really did write pornographic letters to each other. Yay, literary smut!