Great Expecations is a Dicken's novel about a young boy (Pip) who falls in love with the wrong girl (Estella) and spends the rest of his life trying to make up for it.
Pip starts off as a poor boy in a backwater area of Britain. After a mysterious encounter with a convict(in which he feeds the convict and the convict takes pity on him), he is given a great sum of money by a mysterious patron, who he believes is an old eccentric lady, for whom he has spent the last few years taking care of. As part of his agreement in taking the money from the patron, he must not ask who gave him the money, change his name from Pip, and he moves to London to be educated. While he was taking care of the old lady, he fell in love with the cold-hearted Estella, and this love affair haunts him in London as well.

The remaking of what is widely considered the most perfectly constructed piece of literature ever written could easily have become less daring and just plain impudent. All of Dickens’ descriptions and eccentricities and the plot and the characters orbited around the one innermost premise:

love

There’s that oddly paternal type love between Finn (in the original novel, Pip) and the convict, and of course between Finn and his Uncle Joe, there’s the malformed love between Miss Dinsmoor (originally Miss Havisham) and her ward, Estella, and ultimately, the unrequited love between Estella and Finn.

The film was based on Mitch Glazer’s rewriting of Great Expectations, which is something he had never actually aspired to do. When he was fourteen, he fell in love with an older girl. He was rendered speechless around her and preferred to let her do the talking as he stared into the sun. It would have remained an ephemeral junior high crush, were it not for an event one day, after a softball game; he walked to the water fountain. He lowered himself for a drink, and as he guzzled chilly water, she kissed him. “A beautiful, wet, soul kiss”. His first, and 30 years later he was still writing about it. He bestowed this memory upon Estella and Finn; the director Alfonso Cuaron shot a scene that is at once shocking, then rapturous. Finn is given a celluloid first kiss by the young Estella (played by Raquel Beadene) that is less importantly innocent, sexual, and unforgettable, and most significantly, breathtaking. The moment has a turbulence which marks the creation of a consuming passion. Finn is mesmerized; as she walks away he stands there bewildered and the look on his face says, “I’m going to love this girl forever”. Even when the characters are children, the film trembles with an intense sensation of adult emotion.

Pip's leap to London becomes a poor Florida fisherman’s step into New York, into the art world, funded by an undisclosed benefactor whom Finn (Ethan Hawke) assumes to be Miss Dinsmoor. It later turns out to Finn’s initial alarm that it was actually the convict from his youth who had been looking after him all these years, who made him a sensation. The convict (Robert de Niro), as he dies in Finn’s arms, tells him how the one good thing he did in his life was give any money he made, to the only person who had done ‘a really pure and good thing’ for him. He had saved Finn’s childhood notebook with all his dreamlike sketches of creatures from the shallow sea water, and he stained the pages with his blood as he leafed through it one last time. Finn's now spare, faint charcoal and watercolour paintings are in reality the work of Francesco Clemente.

Miss Dinsmoor is an eccentric old lady, a woman of tremendous wealth, a frozen face upon a sixteen-year-old figure. Dickens based her upon an insane old woman rummaging through rubbish bins in a wedding dress she had never taken off. Miss Dinsmoor was left by her beloved, and consequently devises a plan with full deliberation, to break another man as her revenge. She does this to Finn, through Estella.

"She'll only break your heart; it's a fact," Ms. Dinsmoor warns Finn. "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?"

Her crumbling castle by the sea is a monstrosity of knotted decay amidst a sad wedding jungle. It is a gilded wreck with a ballroom decorated by dead leaves and dangling vines. In real life it is a Long Island mansion that is said to be haunted. A translucent lady was purportedly seen dancing on the second floor. Estella (Gywneth Paltrow) grows up here in some sort of chaotic, adult silence, where she speaks French and knows an array of artsy facts that all little girls of noble standing should know. She appears absolutely devoid of emotion and has been taught by Miss Dinsmoor from an early age that love is something to be avoided, that it would hurt her. But beneath her knowing swan's smile there is a flicker of sadness which we can see transiently on such occasions as when Finn screams at her, after she abandons him one last time: “What is it like not to feel anything?”

Miss Dinsmoor’s life ends up with her simply alone, insane, and destroying another young man's love. Through all her deliberation it appears, at the very end, that she was not conscious of the damage she would really do. When Finn takes her hand and places it on his chest and says in a faltering voice “This is my heart.. and it’s broken”, the same way she had done when he was a child, she seems to break, all over again.

I am also absolutely devastated every time I see the scene where Finn’s Uncle Joe embarrasses him at his New York exhibition. Joe (a very tender Chris Cooper) accidentally humiliates him outside of their familiar surroundings, and the moment of recognition on Joe’s face is overwhelmingly upsetting. And then his subsequent, almost brokenhearted, and yet still proud, resignation.

Apparently, on the day Ethan and Gwyneth shot their first love scene, crew members were almost embarrassed to watch them due to their convincing acting. Ethan reportedly put on a song by Roberta Flack, 'Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye,' to create atmosphere. The director said that they all felt like they were peeking where they shouldn’t, that it made people blush. The director has since become my absolute most preferred in terms of cinematic exquisiteness. In parts I actually sat there stunned by what my eyes has just been able to see. The entire film is the colour green. Everyone on the camera and off, wore something green. Gwyneth jokes, “Alfonso has a green problem. I think he's clinically insane, but in a very charming way." He says that green is the only colour he understands, that he can see other colours and they are alien.

I also like the score, and find myself playing it on drizzling days. It is beautiful and dark and orchestrated, and I most especially love “Kissing in the rain”.

South Park Season 4: Episode #405: Great Expectations

Yes, it's South Park does Dickens! Featuring Malcolm McDowell (of Clockwork Orange fame) as the narrator ("Hello! I'm a British person!"), this is one of my favourite episodes of all time. Follows the story of Great Expectations fairly faithfully, until the very end....

This episode puts Pip, the English guy who attends South Park Elementary with Cartman, Stan et al, in the role of Pip from Great Expectations. Other than Pip, there are no other South Park regulars in the episode. Here's the basic plot...

Just like the book, it starts off with Pip visiting the graves of his parents, where he meets the convict, Magwich. Pip, in line with his character in South Park, cuts the convict's shackles and gives him a sandwich, all the while merrily ignoring all the abuse heaped on him.

Joe the blacksmith and his wife, Pip's sister, are hilarious... Joe creates metal oranges and newspapers, while Pip's sister screams and whines. But Joe spots a wanted ad in the metal newspaper he's made, requiring the services of a young boy at the Havesham Estate. Miss Havesham hires Pip to be a playmate for her daughter Estella, who insults and abuses him in all sorts of amusing ways (such as playing the "hit the blonde child over the head with a lump of firewood" game).

Pip eventually falls in love with Estella; and soon afterwards is visited by a lawyer, whose anonymous client wishes to send Pip to school in London, to be educated and made into a gentleman. He finds himself sharing accomodation with Master Pocket, a young man who was also engaged as a playmate for Estella by Miss Havesham. He tells Pip the tragic story of how Miss Havesham was left standing at the altar by her husband-to-be on her wedding day, and generally instructs him on how to be a gentleman.

All the while, Pip assumes that it is Miss Havesham who has sent him to London to become a gentleman, so that he would be good enough to marry Estella, or whatever, and so on a visit home, he goes to Havesham Estate to thank his benefactor. Miss Havesham tells Pip that Estella is going to a royal ball, and so Pip decides to go too.

But alas, at the ball, he discovers that Estella has a boyfriend ("Pip, he's 17 and has his own car!"). A broken-hearted Pip visits Miss Havesham, only to find out that she knew about Estella's boyfriend, and was planning to have her break his (Pip's) heart!

Ever since being jilted at the altar, Miss Havesham has lived to break men's hearts, and has brought Estella up to be the same... and she has built a machine, the Genesis Device, powered by the tears of broken-hearted men, which will transfer her soul into Estella's body, so that she can continue to break men's hearts for another generation! And, worse yet, all was ready for her to put this fiendish plan into operation that very night (this is where the cartoon majorly deviates from the book.....;). Following this revelation, she sets her army of robot monkeys on Pip, who is beaten unconcious and dumped outside the gates.

Pip wakes up in his old bed in Joe and his sister's house, where he was brought by Pocket. There he discovers that his benefactor is, in reality, the convict he had helped! He tells them all of Miss Havesham's evil plan, and Joe, Magwich and Pocket agree to help him rescue Estella. So, as our narrator says, the scene is set for a thrilling showdown!

When they break into the Havesham Estate, our heroes find that Miss Havesham and Estella have already taken their places in the Genesis device, and all of Estella's broken-hearted boyfriends are tied up, dangling over a trough to collect their tears to power the machine. Miss Havesham unleashes her army of robot monkeys on them; Joe and Magwich fight it out with them in a scene reminiscent of The Chaos Engine (an old game I used to play on the Commodore Amiga), and Pocket tries to cheer up Estella's old boyfriends, while Pip attempts to convince Estella not to allow her mother to take over her body.

Pocket completely fails to cheer up the broken-hearted men with his mad ramblings, while Joe and Magwich fight a losing battle against the monkeys; Magwich gets killed by Miss Havesham when she spits green acid into his face; but, following the death of 26 cute baby bunnies, Pip eventually manages to convince Estella that she does have a heart, and emotions. Estella leaps from the Genesis Device, which then explodes, taking Miss Havesham with it.

So, they all live happily ever after!

Except for the 26 baby bunnies.

Oh, and Pocket, who later dies of hepatitis B.


Here are some of my favourite quotes from the episode:
  • Miss Havesham: Does it frighten you to look upon a woman who has not seen the sun in over twenty years?!
    Pip: Oh, no! No! You sort of look upon women who have not seen the sun for over twenty years quite a lot these days!
  • Estella: I HATE YOU! YOU'RE AN OOZING PAINFUL HAEMEROID THAT BELCHES PUSS!
  • Pip: Joe, do you know anything about girls?
    Joe: Sure! They're those things with vaginas in them!
  • Joe:Oh, I don't know about that! I just like to keep to me blacksmiffin'!
  • Pocket: Oh, what a gay time we shall have, and I do mean gay as in festive, not as in penetration of the bum!

Actually, this episode of South Park inspired me to go read Great Expectations. I'd been put off Dickens by being forced to read Hard Times (one of the most dreary, depressing books in the history of literature) for my Leaving Cert. (I think I ended up writing about the alternative, The Mayor Of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, in the actual exam), but South Park inspired me to try again.

I finished Great Expectations. It doesn't end quite like the South Park episode, but I s'pose Dickens had to put something depressing in it. All in all, it was a good read, with a lot more whimsical humour than you'd expect from Dickens.

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