Great Expectations (1998)

A Cuaron’s experimentation…

Alfonso Cuarón’s Great Expectation is a modern interpretation of Charles Dickens’ novel. In this film, Pip (our main guy) is known as Finn and he is a painter. The movie begins with the same plot line, but instead of showing Pip… I mean Finn’s encounter with the escape convict in the marshes, now it is on the beach somewhere in Florida (not England).

Finn lives with his older sister, Maggie and her fisherman husband, Joe, who later raised him when Maggie left (she did not die). One fine evening, Joe got a gardening job at the richest lady in town’s house and he brings Finn along with him. The lady, Miss Dinsmoor is eccentric and freakishly weird. She has one daughter, Estella, who Finn met while he waited for Joe in the abandoned garden. Finn helplessly fall for Estella’s beauty, but on the other hand, Estella doesn’t feel the same way, as she stride away not impressed.

As fate intended, Miss Dinsmoor requested Finn to come to her house and be her daughter’s playmate. This goes on for years, until both of them grew up and became Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke. However, shortly after they grew up, Estella left for study in France and left poor Finn heartbroken.

Years later, we see Finn working as a fisherman and enjoying life. But, his townie days are coming to an end, when a lawyer come and informed Finn that he has a benefactor who wants him to come to New York and pursue his career as a painter. This happy news have one mysterious aspect: Finn may never know who his benefactor is.

Living his new life in the Big Apple, Finn is happier than ever. Painting here and there, Finn looks ecstatic. One day Finn is in the park and he met Estella, the same blond beaut who broke his heart ages ago; she later invited him for a drink. From the brief park rendezvous, Finn thinks his second chance to win over Estella has arrived, but alas, it was cut short when Estella announced that she is engaged and soon to be married to one of New York’s richest guy. Will Finn and Estella reunite? Will Finn’s career as a painter brings him to higher places? And will Finn at the end meet his benefactor?

I finished Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations in a few months. It was a long book but well worth the read. I imagine gathering all of the novel’s material and made it into a movie must be one tough job. Moreover, interpreting old Dickens’ tale into a modern day script is helluva difficult task. Hence why, in my humble opinion, Alfonso Cuarón did managed to create a decent, not great, interpretation of his own Great Expectations.

Some people will find this modern interpretation appealing and other will hate it. I do enjoy the movie, however, I feel it could be better. Changing the names of the characters – Pip to Finn, and Miss Havisham to Dinsmoor – is not my biggest concern. My complain is this, there are many parts and characters in the book that are not included. I understand if Biddy, Wemick or even the fat Jagger have no significant role in the modern day setting, but I failed to understand why Herbert, Pip’s best buddy is not in the movie at all?!

I like the idea of Pip as a painter, but the movie doesn’t explain further the troublesome role of money and fame that later affected Pip’s life, nor does the movie bother to concludes why Pip craves to be a gentleman or a successful person in the movie. Dickens’ Pip understands that in order to be respected by the society, he needs to be educated. In order to gain anything in life, he needs to learn a thing or two. And in order to gain Estella’s back, he needs to be a gentleman.

The love story between Pip and Estella is cleverly written by Dickens. Estella is a heartless bi*** who grew up under Miss Havisham’s nurture hence she remains as frigid and heartless till the end of the book. But, the movie boycott the whole thing and played it safely.

What confuses me further is the relationship between Magwitch and Pip in the movie. The book dedicated chapters to give readers a better understanding of Magwitch’s past and his bond with Pip. In the end of the book, Magwitch becomes one of the biggest influence in Pip’s life. Pip learned the reason he met Magwitch in that marshes was fate, as they say destiny do intertwined. Furthermore, the movie doesn’t even bother to explain Magwitch’s role in Estella’s life? THIS IS PURE BOLLOCKS.

OKAY caps lock aside, as I stated above, Cuaron’s Great Expectation is a decent and unique interpretation of Dickens’ beloved novel. The movie has some wonderful cinematography and editing job (the dancing in the rain scene was beautifully done). Also, the movie managed to change my mind about Gwyneth Paltrow! Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow also share an amazing chemistry, which made me wonder why they never star in another film together. Ethan Hawke is a good actor, heck he is one of my favourites. But, his acting is rather cheesy here. He looked bored, for real. Also, casting Robert de Niro as Magwitch was a nice choice, but I hated the way his character ends. It seems the producer can’t pay De Niro much more and decided to call it a day.

Now, lets talk about Alfonso Cuaron. He is by far one of my favourite directors. I even dedicated a post about his movies. With Great Expectations, the Mexican director took a risky choice and weirdly it worked for him. Cuaron understands Dickens’ classic wouldn’t work with the clumsy American market target, so he decided to focus on Pip and Estella’s love story. Was it wrong of him? It was the 90’s and he was a relatively new director. What choices does Alfonso Cuaron has than to SEX IT UP! From nude painting to some ‘finger play’ under Estella’s dress, the movie is tastefully… sexy. Heck, I think Cuaron actually gave a new sexy shade to Estella’s cold character.

Cuaron also succeeded in bringing Indie music to be in the limelight with Great Expectations. The movie got one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. From the popular Velazquez’ “Bésame Mucho”, “Like a friend” by Pulp, to Duncan Sheik’s “Wishful Thinking” and Tori Amos’ “Siren” – Great Expectations songs are a feast to the ears.

Here is Sunshower by Chris Cornell:

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