When I was taking a film theory class in a university that was not my own, one of the professors used to beg us not to write movie reviews for our term papers. Movie reviews are all well and good, he’d say, but there are entirely irrelevant from an academic standpoint. Well, the one good thing about being out of university (if only for a few months until you plunge right back into the higher education system) is that you are no longer required to write “objective” academic papers. You can be entirely unobjective and just say what you liked about a movie.
Yesterday I went to see Far From The Madding Crowd, which I wanted to do for a really long time now. I was spending some time in England last month and noticed at posters for the movie everywhere—buses, streetlights, the London Underground. Imagine my surprise when, upon coming back to Vancouver, I learned that it was only playing in a few select theatres. But I digress.
I went to 5th Avenue Cinemas on Tuesdays when tickets are cheaper and there is not as many teenagers in the theatre. Despite an annoying allergenic-and-so-not-contagious cough that lasted throughout the whole movie and got me some odd stares (and a cough drop offer from an old lady behind me), I sat through the trailers, the movie and the credits to my enjoyment. Anyway, here are some thoughts on what Thomas Vinterberg has managed to do with the classic Thomas Hardy book.
Thought #1: The movie made me lust after the sprawling green fields of England. I’ve never been to Devon, per se, but I have spent a fair bit of time driving through the English countryside to know that it is very pleasing to the eye. The scenery did not dissapoint.
Thought #2: When what you’re watching is a remake of a classic novel, it’s very hard to “just watch the movie” and not become entranced by the story itself. It is, of course, a good one. Despite having picked up a discounted version of Far From The Madding Crowd at a bookstore a few years ago, I haven’t actually gotten around to reading it. In fact, the only Hardy book I’ve read is Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but I could already sense some very Hardy-esque features throughout the film—life in agrarian England, a focus on the sudden reversal of fortune, the presence of the sexy villain… As such, I can’t truly say if I liked the film because of the story itself or Vinterberg’s take on it. I guess that’s what you get for not reading the book ahead of time.
Thought #3: The fashions in the film were really cool. I didn’t expect much in that regard, but was pretty impressed anyway by the array of dresses Bathsheba Everdene gets when she suddenly comes into her inheritance. I only wish I were cool enough to consider wearing polka dots as my wedding dress should I ever get married.
Thought #4: The entire movie felt rushed. It is two hours long, mind you, but it felt like it did not come close to capturing all of the complexities of the novel. In the Vinterberg’s defence, it’s not exactly easy to translate a 400-page book into a movie without losing some details, but still. There were times when it felt like the viewer had to fill in a lot of gaps regarding Bathsheba’s and Frank Troy’s marriage, the subsequent financial difficulties, Fanny Robin’s death, and just about every other important moment in the plot.
Thought #5: I loved the way the actors’ performance and expressions expressed the wide array of emotions experienced by the characters. As someone who tutored students in English literature for the better chunk of five years now, I have seen the prim and unemotional Victorian character stereotype a little too often and don’t like when films perpetuate it. Here, I could both see and sense Bathsheba’s true feelings for Gabriel Oaks, Frank’s smug self-confidence, Gabriel’s conflicting pride and humility and Boldwood’s emotional turmoil throughout every scene.
Thought #6 (spoiler alert, ay-ay!): The lady sitting next to me cheered when Bathsheba and Gabriel walked off into the green fields together hand-in-hand. I, however, find it less easy to sympathize with the ending when the whole reason Bathsheba comes after him is because Boldwood is in jail and she no longer has to make the choice between the two. In some sense, I can’t help thinking that Hardy used an easy tactic to get rid of one of the characters and make the choice obvious for Bathsheba when I would have liked her to truly choose one or the other. On that note, however, my critcism is probably better addressed to Hardy himself.
Last crazy discovery: After doing some research on the movie, I discovered that the ever-popular character of Katniss Everdeen gets her last name from Bathsheba. I’m hardly a easy Hunger Games fan myself (in fact, I’ve been known to make fun of those who read it), but I still find that pretty darn cool.