Review: Great Expectations (1998)

I watched Great Expectations the other night. The movie with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. If you have read the novel, or if you are as far behind the movie times as I am (it was released in 1998), you might want to check it out.

Ever since I heard of this adaptation back in 2008, I have been searching for it everywhere. (As many of you might have guessed from reading this blog), I kind of have an obsession with film adaptations of 19th century literature. Luckily, a friend of mine had a copy of the movie on hand, and I was able to borrow it from him and enjoy it myself.

An alternate version of the cover (from Google Images)

Let’s face it: Dickens is usually depressing. After all the torture he puts his readers through in small victories for each character, and long-winded (but frequently beautiful) descriptions of every atmospheric detail of the setting, he rarely ever offers a hopeful end for his primary characters. He  certainly does not give Pip a happy ending in Great Expectations.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with Great Expectations the novel- although I do acknowledge its genius, I find reading it absolute torture emotionally (which, I also acknowledge as part of the genius). Pip and Estella are never really redeemed, and may only get worse and worse. There are not many characters who readers can connect with that don’t get slapped in the face by life, or Pip, or Estella. By the end of the novel, I always want to yell at them all, especially Pip.

In contrast, this newer adaptation of a similar story, unexpectedly set in a contemporary age, in a location between Florida and New York city, gives its characters much needed humanity, and I would argue, redemption. I did not want to yell at Pip or Estella after finishing the film, yet my heart felt similarly broken to how it feels after reading the novel, and throughout the movie I was also annoyed with Pip quite a large percentage of the time (as it should be).

I did not expect to like this movie very well, but before and after the first hour, I felt continually interested in it. The director and actor choices were really fascinating. I usually never say this, but I may like this movie as much, if not better than, the book, if only because I felt less debilitated after it was over. The movie made many of the same points as Dickens does, but was also more hopeful for the state of humanity. I also loved that Pip became an artist, and the beautiful messages that the artwork was used for throughout the film. It felt rich, complex, and not entirely hopeless, and for that, I was grateful.

Although it is set in America, something that bothered me at first, the storyline and the character motives were still pretty well-drawn. There are many differences between the film and the book, as there always are, yet the characters retained their integrity and had enough similarities to the originals that they were highly recognizable.

Another hesitation I had that was overcome while watching the movie, was that the actors are so well known I was wondering if I would believe them in their roles. However, I was extremely impressed with the acting and I actually think that the difference in setting from the original was a smart choice. Giving the adaptation some spatial distance was effective, as it both gave homage to the old while creating a new piece of art altogether.

My favorite parts of the film surrounded Miss Havisham. The woman who played her as “Miss Dinsmore” (Ann Bancroft) was an amazing actor. The Havisham role was portrayed with incredible and eccentric detail, and her broken down mansion was stunningly recreated in a very Florida way, wedding tables and all. Even though I didn’t know exactly what to expect from her modern doppelganger, I felt that the exploration of her insanity was even better played out in the film than it was in the book. She was not just tortured from being stood up on her wedding day. Dinsmore was shown to have a severe mental disorder and a drinking problem on top of that lasting grief and self-induced heartbreak. She also was shown to have way too much money and time on her hands. There was also a lot of creepy sexual tension and lack of boundaries in the film coming from Miss Dinsmore, which I feel Dickens did not point to quite as much, but made total sense with her character. In the film, Miss Dinsmore wants to destroy both Estella and Pip through creating this alternate (and very weird) space for them all to exist in misery and be motivated by their obsessions to both possess and destroy one another. Her character was just as terrifying and disturbing as Miss Havisham’s was, if not more so.

Miss Dinsmore and Pip drawing

There is also an amazing part of the movie, that had to be my favorite. **Spoiler alert** Pip (Finn) goes to see Estella and profess his love for her, but instead finds Miss Dinsmore (Havisham). There she tells him of Estella’s marriage to another person, all part of her cruel and scheming plan to use Estella as revenge for her past, as a vehicle to break mens’ hearts. He takes her hand and puts it to his chest, saying “do you feel my heart? It’s broken.” This mimics an earlier moment in the film when Miss Havisham says something similar to him to performatively gain his pity, and is his second act of defiance against her in the film.

I loved the portrayal, and was so captivated by Anne Bancroft’s performance that when she was on screen I almost forgot about the other characters.

Parts that were left out included: more tension between Pip’s past and present, and his inability to feel truly comfortable in either, Estella’s second marriage, the final realization about the criminal (won’t give too much away in case you don’t know the story), his relation to Miss Havisham, and Pip’s anger towards him were either left out or diminished.  Pip’s name is changed to Finn (short for Finnegan), which I thought was really interesting considering the tense relationship between Ireland and England (where the novel was written) in the 19th century.

There were also certain things added to the movie version that were not in the original story line, such as Pip as artist (painter), negative consequences of Pip’s actions on his family, and Pip’s isolation from his home community when he comes back to visit. I really liked that Pip was an untrained artist, but that his pictures were still impactful. I guess the drawings and paintings were done for the movie by Italian artist Francisco Clemente, who has become quite famous from it.

Finn's (Clemente's work) depiction of DeNiro's character

Watching this movie was a very weird, and very singular experience for me. It was beautiful, and also felt revelatory in a lot of ways.  I wrote for hours after watching this movie, and wanted to start drawing again (it’s been a few years since I just sat for hours and did nothing but draw- writing has become my primary form of artistic outlet).

Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, but contrary to some of the bad reviews of the film, I found the adaptation very inspiring. Even though I am enthralled by adaptations, such a positive reaction to one is unusual for me. I would highly recommend it to all adult viewers.

Here is the trailer: 

I would give it 4.5 out of 5 stars, for despite all of its problematic elements and loose ends, and the fact that it is set later than 100 years after the original on another continent, it keeps that same Dickensian mood, and the singular and almost dreamlike tension/ obsession that Pip feels throughout the novel would be very difficult to achieve in film.

I would suggest watching it with a glass of water (a theme throughout the movie).

Hope you can get inspired,

Miss E

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Finding Inspiration

I am a firm believer that to be a writer, one need only to write.

The past year, I have written about completely disparate subjects in almost every genre, from relationship advice, to composting tips, great wineries in the Northwest, and both fiction and non-fiction for different clients. I have written about reading academic and literary and casual novels, Ryan Gosling, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Bollywood/ Kollywood movies, and painting on this site.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

I’ve written a lot of different stuff lately.

And you know what? It has been really fun!

A picture I took a few years back in the Black Hills, South Dakota.

Waiting around for inspiration and writing only when a brilliant idea knocks you over the head will produce little, and will also not give you much practice.

That is how I used to write. I was worried that my everyday writing was too mundane, that nobody would ever read it, etc.

Although it’s tough for me to admit, my identity as a writer has been tenuously forming for years.

Even thought I have always identified with writers and have always enjoyed writing, I never had much confidence that I could be a really good writer. I have that confidence now, but it is because of the daily practice, and the feeling it leads to, rather than coming up with something “groundbreaking” or “great.”

That being said, I now write for a few various reasons.

The primary ones are as follows:

  • I like to read, and I like to create a “finished” product to share with others.
  • I feel compelled to do it, to express myself through words.
  • I enjoy talking, (as anyone who knows me can tell you, I’m sure), and writing is another form of speaking to me.

Like I said before, my identity as a writer has been tenuously forming for years, but I have always wanted to write, to “be a writer,” and to produce written works.

However, it is only recently that I have felt confident in calling myself a writer. That is because lately, I have really dedicated myself to writing on a regular basis.

I took a fiction writing workshop in graduate school, something I’d always been terrified of. Having other readers was empowering. I wrote and edited for a living starting this past summer, (2011).

Now I write all the time. I write articles for you all and for an online magazine, for example. It makes me feel amazing, but I was always afraid of writing before. I think I knew that it would make me incandesantly happy.

I’m ready for that happiness now in a way I wasn’t before.

Some installation art I came across one day in Pioneer Square, Seattle. Loved the paper hanging from trees!

I write to write, but I also do get inspired, and some days I definitely need a push. So, I’d like to share what pushes me to write:

  • Reading. I feel there is a strong connection between reading and being a good writer. When I read the words of others, it is inspiring to me. I feel connected with their psyche, with their way of painting the world around them or around their characters. I find reading endlessly fascinating, and it’s what inspired me to write in the first place.
  • Artwork. When I am looking at art, I feel inspired to create. To draw, to paint, and to write. While living in London for a semester and taking primarily art-based classes, I journaled more than I have in my entire life. Looking at pins on Pinterest and pinning to my boards there is also part of this inspiration for me, as silly as it may sound. Love that site!
  • The feeling that comes from finishing or sharing a piece of art or writing with an audience, for example, with you all here. Not going to lie, it feels great to publish, even when the publishing happens on my own blog.
  • Beautiful scenes in nature, like the above photo from Custer State Park in the Black Hills, one of my all time favorite places for inspiration.

To move beyond writing for myself in my journal has been really rewarding. Audience matters. Readers matter. Thank you all for reading my posts- I truly appreciate you!

As many of you are also writers, I’d love to know- what inspires you to write?

Cheers,

Miss E

Moby Dick Door

I have been posting pretty frequently this week, primarily because all of Seattle was shut down in what you may have heard termed the “Snowpocalypse.”

Yeah, it snowed for a while, and it was cute.

We actually had skiiers going down our hill because the city doesn’t have plows (or very many of them).  Also, trapped inside with what could only be equally dramatized as the absolute the worst cold of my life for the past week, I have gotten a lot more time to rest and be online.

When I was looking for pictures to post onto my blog background, I came across a fun picture that I wanted to share with other Literature Nerds out on the internet.

A few years ago, I painted this on my closet door, in devotion to one of my favorite novels:

Image

Needless to say, it was an art project born of boredom and no regard for how much doors actually cost. However, I still quite enjoy it to this day whenever I visit my parents. Not sure they quite do, but I suppose it may have been better than some things you can put on a door.

The lower panel has a picture of Pip falling upside down in the multitudinous depths, and the door itself has quotes from the text all around the perimeters.

I believe one of my favorites is still the one I painted in the center underneath Ishmael who is floating on the coffin life-buoy.

“Dissect him how I may, I go but skin deep; I know him not, and never will…” Oh yeah!

Anyone want me to paint scenes from Literature on their doors for them?

Having a huge nerd moment,

Miss E