Great Expectations (1998)
By Alfonso Cuarón
Representation of Women in Great Expectations
Summary of the film
Conclusion form Sequence One and Sequence Two
Esthetics of the film
A close up on Estella
Loosely based on Charles Dickens' tale Great Expectations, the film under study is about a man of modest background who falls in love with a rich girl who has been trained since childhood to break the hearts of men. Director Alfonso Cuarón, moves the setting from Victorian England to a neo-Gothic mansion in Florida. The film stars Ethan Hawke as Finn (Pip in the book), and Gwyneth Paltrow as Estella, the beautiful niece of the eccentric millionairess Ms. Dinsmoor (Anne Bancroft). Those who have read the novel by Dickens will expect a drama / comedy work of art but instead director Alfonso Cuarón's Great Expectations transform the novel into a romance. Cuarón stresses on: Ms.Dinsmoor and her oath of revenge against mankind; Estella and her enchanting beauty, who falls into the trap of pride and Finn and his pure emotions, falling into the trap of loving the unreachable Estella; and finally on the story of the mysterious benefactor of Finn who gives all of his possessions to Finn, whom he knows as a good-hearted little kid.
The fallowing paper will consists of a summary of the film and a close study of two sequences. From there I will proceed with a study of the film’s esthetics and finally I will dwell on Estella and her relationship with Finn.
Summary of the film
First of all I would say that it is a challenge to take a classic novel and turn it into a movie that will satisfy everyone, especially when the story is changed and adapted so as to fit a modern setting. Although the film is an adaptation of Charles Dickenson’s novel under the same name, one can be disappointed of the many differences and changes in the film. It is not an exact translation of the book but it relays on the romantic aspect of the novel.
The movie opens with a small boy (Finn), about ten years of age being overtaken by a man, who we later learn is a death sentenced escapee. He orders the boy to bring selected materials to him early the next morning, and never to tell anyone of his terrifying experience. He does as he is told. The boy is named Finnegan Bell, a poor, unfortunate child who lives with his older sister and her husband. His uncle, Joe, soon excepts a job from Ms. Dinsmoor, and her spoiled daughter, Estella. Under circumstances, Finn is able to meet the young girls, and later on becomes close friends with her and Ms. Dinsmoor.
Years pass, Finn is still inevitably attracted to Estella, despite her emotionless personality. Unfortunately, she leaves the state to study her future career and Finn is devastated. He gives up his wonderful talent of art and goes into cruise drive for the next seven years. An offer is made to him almost a decade later, to move to New York, where Estella lives at this time, and pursue a career as a professional artist. Soon after he arrives, he meets his love once again.
The first sequence under study is in the beginning of the film. It is the second time Finn (as a kid) comes to Ms.Dinsmoor house to visit her. For this study I will call the sequence ‘Finn as a kid draws Estella’. The second sequence under study is the second time Fin draws a portrait of Estella but this time they are both grown-ups. The two sequences will be discussed one after another because they are both connected and involve Finn drawing and admiring Estella, and Estella leaving him on his own after her portrait is done.
Before I proceed with the analysis of the first sequence I would like to refer to the first time Finn meets Estella in the garden. From a close shot we see her in the middle of the garden somewhere between the trees with her white dress and long blond hair almost like a nymph. The camera is objective we see through Finns’ eyes. The lighting makes her seems even more ferial and unreal. The music is both diegetic and non -diegetic. We hear birds singing, the wind and soft gentle music.
The first sequence starts at minute 00. 20.20. Fin goes to seek Estella and finds her in the hallway. From a medium close shot we see Finn immobile and the eccentric Ms. Dinsmoor smocking in her chair. We understand the true reason why Finn is invited to the big rich house. He is to entertain the rich lady. Here the reversal of roles is obvious. The rich lady is the one ordering the show. She is in movement even when she sits in her chair. She smokes and imitates the different dances with her hand while Finn is standing at one place as if he is scared to move.
Through a medium close shot we see Finn and Estella at the background. Because of the light coming from the window she seems blurred and we cannot see her face. She is mysterious and interesting for Finn. As she passes Fin the camera is subjective and we see him in the back. She passes him as if he is not there and just goes her way. From these three shots we understand that Estella does not pay any attention to Finn and maybe finds him boring.
The above shot is very interesting because it reveals the relation between the two. Estella is the one who leads the game. He fallows her and even runs after her. She seems quiet uninterested in him as he is in the role of a puppy who fallows his/ her master. Colors are dark at the background with light in the center where our little protagonists are. Once again from a medium close shot we see Finn, Ms. Dinsmoor and Estella. Thanks to the high angle the three figures seem small and insignificant. Even though there is not a lot of light we can see that he décor around is cozy and luxurious.