Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

By Dan Clendenin

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Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (2017)

For more than fifty years, the journalist, novelist, and playwright Joan Didion (born 1934) has taken the pulse of American culture, describing in her many pieces of social criticism what she understands as its disintegration, moral decline, “atomization,” and “horror of disorder.” In one part of this film she reminds her husband of the loss of her “slight faith in the social contract.” Didion’s many awards include the National Book Award for Non-Fiction for her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) about the death of her husband and fellow author John Dunne from a sudden heart attack. As you would expect, this Netflix Original makes extensive use of archival footage and interviews to tell the story of Didion’s life and work, from her beginnings in Sacramento, graduation from UC Berkeley, to the literary scene in New York City beginning with her time at Vogue magazine. A special treat in this film are the readings from her works. The director of the movie, Griffin Dunne, is a nephew of Didion. The title of the film is a quotation from W.B. Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming,” that “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” The film concludes in 2013 when President Obama presented her a National Medal of Arts and Humanities.

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