The Center Will Not Hold Us: A Documentary on Joan Didion

by The Cowl Editor on October 26, 2017

Arts & Entertainment

by Elizabeth Jancsy ’18

A&E Staff

Joan Didion one of America’s most beloved authors, is finally getting the Hollywood treatment in a new documentary coming to Netflix, which show cases her career and personal life. Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold is a tell-all documentary about Didion, consisting of readings from her novels, rare home footage, and interviews with some of her closest friends and family about the impact she has left on the literary world.

The film is especially personal because it was produced and directed by Didion’s very own nephew, Griffin Dunne. Adding a very honest and tender touch to the film, Dunne was able to showcase his aunt in a very relatable way, highlighting her humility even after all of her accomplishments.

Didion’s rise to literary fame began in 1963 when she wrote her first novel “Run, River” while working at Vogue as a copywriter turned associate feature editor. The novel was an ode to her home state of California. Didion later went on to produce four more fiction novels, 13 nonfiction novels, and six screenplays.

In 2005 Didion accepted the National Book Award for Nonfiction for her novel The Year of Magical Thinking, which received high praise upon release. In 2013, Didion attended a ceremony at the White House where she received the National Medal of Humanities. Though she took a break from publishing beginning  in 2011, Didion recently released her latest nonfiction piece South and West in May 2017.

Although this is the first film about Didion, she is no stranger to the public eye. Aside from her own successful career, the author was married to the late John Gregory Dunne, an American novelist. The two often worked together to improve their writings. The couple also had an adopted daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne.

Didion experienced tragedies in 2003 and 2005 when she lost both her husband and daughter. Dunne passed away from a heart attack in 2003, and Quintana passed away from acute pancreatitis in 2005, leaving Didion to put her grief in her writing. She talks about losing her family members in her 2011 novel, Blue Nights.

Moments like these, and many other private and intimate details of Didion’s life, are on full display in this new documentary. Having premiered at the New York Film Festival prior to its anticipated Netflix release, audiences got the first look at the life of a true American icon.

In an interview with Didion and Dunne, Vogue notes, “The documentary doesn’t ignore her glamour, but, perhaps because it was made by family, it adds something new: a tender, life-size portrait of Joan Didion as a person. In their scenes together, she and Griffin have a touching rapport; when he recalls first meeting her as a young boy, she laughs at the memory and leans into him, entirely at ease.”

They continue by explaining how Didion’s “deep attachment to family” is unsurprising due to her extensive writing about the loss of her husband and daughter. The difference is that viewers “see her family and friends telling her story alongside the readings from her work is to make it all seem of a piece, to bring the whole of the life into focus.”

In the same interview with Vogue, when asked about their thoughts on the film, Didion replied   “It was extraordinary, I thought I didn’t want to look back on this stuff, but I did.” Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold premieres on Netflix Oct. 27.