Released in 2020, Shirley was a semi-biographical drama that followed the titular character, played by Elisabeth Moss, as she struggled to leave her home.
Constantly at odds with her husband Stanley, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, she is in a deep depression, breathing down her neck to get back to work and begin writing again.
Directed by Josephine Decker, Shirley is based on the real-life story and incidents of the horror writer Shirley Jackson. In the throes of a severe bout of agoraphobia and struggling to assemble a new book, the story is based on a real-life missing person’s case.
Set during the writing of the 1951 novel Hangsaman, Shirley Jackson’s second novel, the psychological thriller reflects on writing, womanhood, and what it means to be a wife in 1950s America. It conveyed the message of how two women going through a similar kind of pain can turn to each other for guidance and love but slowly turn like each other.
In the movie, it is shown that Shirley and her husband live together, and another young couple, Rose and Fred Nemser, move into the writer’s Bennington home. What was supposed to be a short stay went a little longer as Shirley’s husband asked Rose to take care of Shirley.
As the movie moves forward, their personalities switch as Shirley gets more in control of herself, and Rose gets wilder and gains a prude personality.
The movie is a unique blend of fact and fiction based on Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel of the same name, Shirley. The novel blurs the lines between the author’s real life and the embellished story of the writer’s process and inspiration.
However, as the movie is taken from the novel, some of its elements are just a work of fiction.
Revolving around the titular character, the movie shows her life in the form of a fictional story. It showed the abusive marriage with her husband, literary critic Stanley Hyman, who also worked as a professor at Bennington College. The details in the movie are remixed, and the character expertly evokes the dread and panic that comes with societal expectations.
At the end of the movie, it is revealed that the lead character, Paula, of her book Hangsaman is based on Rose. In the book, Paula survives but dies by jumping off the cliff.
The scene where she jumps to her death is not shown, but there is a dialogue between Shirley and her husband Stanley when he congratulates her on the masterpiece her book Hangsaman is.
“It hurts. This one. It hurts more than the others,” says Shirley. The reference to hurt is mentioned because the character in her book emerges stronger. The person it was based on dies on the rocks, and that’s why for the author, this book hurts more than the others.
Based on Susan Scarf Merrell’s psycho-thriller novel published in 2014, the movie combines real events from Shirley Jackson’s life.
Showing her relationship with her academic husband, the university town they live in, and her battles with alcohol, the movie shows that Shirley has agoraphobia and anxiety.
Director Josephine Decker made the movie by taking reference from a novel that was based on the story of Shirley Jackson. The movie is based on a fictional book but is not a proper biography. Hence calling it to be based on a true story would be false. The lead character is a fictional telling of Jackson’s writing process while working on her 1951 novel, Hangsaman.
The movie ends with the author coming to a conclusion for the novel, Hangsaman that the author has been looking for a long time. On the other hand, Rose resolves never to be the submissive wife she once was and goes through all the things from her past.
Do you think the depiction of Shirley Jackson was accurate as she was in her real life? Let us know in the comments what you think about the movie.
Shirley is now available on Hulu.