Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Great Expectations (1998)

By s. Wednesday, November 9, 2011 , , , , , ,
85/100 (1998, 118 min)
Plot: Modernization of Charles Dickens classic story finds the hapless Finn as a painter in New York pursuing his unrequited and haughty childhood love.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Charles Dickens (novel), Mitch Glazer (screenplay)
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow and Hank Azaria

Let desire be your destiny

“She'll only break your heart, it's a fact. And even though I warn you, even though I guarantee you that the girl will only hurt you terribly, you'll still pursue her. Ain't love grand?

Loosely based on the novel by the same title by Charles Dickens, “Great Expectations” is one of the most underrated movies I've ever seen. It's an absolutely spellbinding love story between poor artist Finn and fascinating and rich Estella. Both of them come from different worlds, but its their inner freedom and innocence that will ultimately bring them together.

Estella and Finn meet when they are little kids. He lives with his sister and her boyfriend, he is poor, simple, uneducated. But he has great talent – he paints wonderful, extremely unique pictures. Estella is being raised by her bizarre aunt Norma (in the novel it's Mrs. Havisham), who was left at the alter years ago and since then has progressively descended into madness. Norma raises Estella as a weapon against men. Cold, calculated and manipulative, ready to do anything to bring them suffering.
When Finn meets Estella for the fist time he paints her portrait. Estella instantly recognizes how beautiful it is, but behaves as her aunt taught her to – she hides her feelings. But later when Finn takes sip from the water fountain she unexpectedly kisses him. A kiss which will be repeated years later, when the two of them meet again. Before Estella leaves she and Finn meet regularly in her aunt's chaotic mansion, filled with plants, records, clothes, expensive decorations. Norma, always with heavy make up on, glass of champagne in her hand and madness in her mind, teaches them how to dance, how to behave and quietly observes as Finn falls in love with Estella.

When Estella suddenly leaves, Finn tries to turn his life around and instead of being a helpless romantic, he attempts to live like everyone else. But then, almost like a gift from fairy godmother, he gets an envelope filled with money and a ticket to New York to have his own art exhibition. Even though Finn haven't been painting anything since Estella left, his gift is still there. No matter what, even if he didn't practice, even if he abandoned it for so many years, when he needs it, it's still there. Just like his love for Estella, who ironically appears in the very same scene Finn starts painting again. This time Finn will also get a chance to paint Estella again, in the movie's most wonderfully directed sequence, where the joy of love, creation and inspiration is omnipresent.

Who is the mysterious benefactor? Is it Norma? Is it Finn's sister? Or is it a prisoner who got help from little Finn all those years ago? You will find out by the time the film is over. But the main hero and the most important thing in the story is the bond Finn and Estella share – even though they have completely different upbringing, their lives differ so much and Estella has been being poisoned with hatred and bitterness from her earliest years, all that matters is that their hearts almost sing to one another – the phenomenon which is perhaps most visible in a beautiful sequence where Finn asks Estella to dance with him in front of her fiancee and his parents and then takes her outside and they kiss in the rain.
The film is directed by Alfonso Cuaron, one of the most unique directors working today. He is responsible for masterful “Children of Men”, incredibly sensual “Y tu mama tambien” and for breathing life and fascinating darkness into “Harry Potter” series with his “Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban”. He always has wonderful instinct when it comes to using colors n his film – particularly green, the color of love and hope, which is seen everywhere in “Great Expectations”. Beautiful visual side of the film is also built around Finn's paintings, in reality created by Francesco Clemente. The images aided by score by Patrick Doyle and fantastic selection of songs, including Tori Amos's “Siren” written specifically for the movie. Amos also provided the vocalizations (wistling, breaths, etc.) that can be heard in the film's score.

The cast includes Ethan Hawke as Finn – Hawke was always at his best playing romantic heroes, in “Before Sunset”, “Before Sunrise” and “Gattaca”. He is perfect choice for Finn – sensitive, a little bit arrogant and impulsive. Estella is played by Gwyneth Paltrow – she certainly has ethereal looks and curious sensuality, which luckily for her was enough to make Estella into interesting character. We also see Chris Cooper in a heartfelt performance as Finn's uncle Joe, Robert De Niro as dangerous prisoner who is aided by Finn and Anne Bancroft, Mrs. Robinson form “The Graduate” in a lovely turn as tragic Norma.
Next year will bring yet another version of the story and its one of the most anticipated film for me – the casting in this one is even better than it was here – we will get to see Ralph Fiennes,Jason Flemyng, Robbie Coltrane, beautiful Holliday Grainger (from “The Borgias”) as Estella, Jeremy Irvine, the star of the upcoming Steven Spielberg's movie “War Horse” as Pip (in this version it was Finn) and what only may be the best piece of casting since Alan Rickman played Snape....Helena Bonham Carter as miss Havisham (I posted first picture of her in this role few days ago). The film will be directed by Mike Newell, curiously enough the director of the follow up to “Prisoner of Azkaban” - “The Goblet of Fire”. Newell is no Cuaron, but with the cast and source material like that, who knows what he can do. Until the movie premiers in 2012 we still have this lovely version, with is great performances, unique style and fairy tale elements to it.


  1. This bored me to death at times and even as pretty and gorgeous it may look at times, the story still doesn't back it up. Nice review though.

  2. A few years ago I was quite obsessed with this movie.
    I watch this scene - and I'm devastated.