Monday, July 28, 2014

Great Expectations (1998)

Instead of an exploratory post, i.e. an examination of an already formed answer, I'd like to pose a series of questions about the Alfonso Cuaron Great Expectations. Some are more serious that others, perhaps. For the most part, these are the questions that I would use to frame a discussion, or the questions that students would hopefully create themselves to frame a discussion.

Note: I'm using their Dickens names in this review, but their names in the film are Finn (Pip), Lustig (Magwitch), Ms. Dinsmoor (Miss Havisham), and Estella (Estella... Cuaron pointedly keeps her original name). 

Why do we begin with half-finished drawings? Does this already hint at Pip's inability to really read and perceive reality (too leading of a question, of course)?

What is the significance of Pip saying he will tell the story "the way I remember it"? What are the implications of telling it this way, versus telling the audience what may have actually happened?

Does the young girl know she is going to grow up to be Gwyneth Paltrow?

Does this voiceover seem oddly Carraway-esque (particularly since the students I teach have already studied Gatsby adaptations)? In what way?

Why do we get the odd moment with Magwitch berating Pip for biting his nails?

What is the significance of making Mrs. Joe frustrated with her life but not with Pip? Alongside this, is Joe drastically less likable? What do these changes reveal about the film's potential audience?

Alongside the previous question, where is this movie purposely made modern, and how does this affect our reading of the film and our sympathy (or lack of it) for the film's characters? Do we agree that Pip should leave his poor origins behind?

Why does Cuaron use so many fades? Is it excessive? Does it serve to highlight themes in the film/ themes in Dickens' text?

Why does Ethan Hawke insist on being in these remakes? Is it purposely to spite me? Is his Pip even worse than his Hamlet?

Is Miss Havisham more comic than tragic? Does updating her a zany drunk succeed for you? How do you define success in this case?

Why are there so many insects in this movie?

Pip is not a great painter, do you agree? Alongside this, what does it mean for him to already have this talent and simply be harnessing it (Dickens' Pip has to learn his trade from scratch)? Does it change our experience of his expectations? What does it mean that Pip couldn't actually even sell his terrible paintings?

What is the role of mirrors in this movie?

What are your reactions to Estella in this movie? Does making her an immediate sexual tease (and an attainable object of sexual desire) alter how we see her relationship with Pip?


Do you see film noir influences in this film? How do they affect your experience of it?

Why does Miss Havisham have to be punished in Dickens' novel? Why isn't she punished in this film?

How necessary was Magwitch's death? Did Robert de Niro actually enjoy being in this movie?

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