Books to Film by Mitali Chakravarty
Humility. Kindness. Gratitude.” and “Love is the answer.”
— The Good Day I Died: The Near-Death Experience of a Harvard Divinity Student by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
Desmond’s post-structuralist book was released in good time to be wrapped as a Christmas present in Singapore — with the values he speaks of, it deserves that. Meanwhile, on Christmas, 2019, was released a film in United States that spoke of similar values — a film called Little Women adopted from a quasi- autobiographical series written from the 1860s to1880s by Louisa M Alcott, a movie that hopes to take Singapore by storm from 16th January, 2020.
As of January 12, 2020 — in two weeks of its world release — the film grossed $74 million in the United States and Canada, and $33.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $107.2 million. It has won much critical acclaim and was chosen by both the American Film Institute and the Time magazine as one of the top ten films of 2019. At the 77th Golden Globe Awards it received two nominations; in the British Academy Film Awards, it received five and six Academy Awards nominations — with all three-nominations naming Saoirse Ronan for the Best Actress and the last two including Florence Pugh for the Best Supporting Actress, and Greta Gerwig for the Best Adapted Screenplay.
With a star-studded cast — Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Pugh, Timothée Hal Chalamet, James Norton — and more, the family drama centring around the American Civil War had the audience at the screening in its grip. It was little surprising while leaving the hall at the Singapore preview, that a woman was excitedly talking to a friend in part-Chinese part- English about how she empathised with the characters in Little Women. And through the screening, one could sense the audience palpitate emotionally in waves with murmurs rising and falling in a crescendo — fully absorbed by the events on the screen.
When Louisa May Alcott wrote the books, she wrote four — Little Women (1868), Good Wives (1869), Little Men (1871) and Jo’s boys (1886). The story is about four sisters growing up against the backdrop of the American Civil war. This empathises with the Yankee army as opposed to the Pulitzer prize winning book, Gone with the Wind which empathised with the Southern army and also had been made into a blockbuster in 1939. From both the films, one sees the same life style — Little Women misses the slavery because there were no slaves in the North and the larger details of the civil war. But, the impact of the war is felt with tottering fortunes and stories of soldiers. The father of the March family only comes in around the end of Little Women because he was at war and Meg’s sweetheart goes and joins the Yankee army. At the end of both these novels and the movies, one wonders — why did they fight? Could the controversy over slavery have not been resolved more amicably?
However, the focus of the 2019 production of Little Women is on the lives of the four sisters – the story is told more from the perspective of the second sister – Jo March – an independent feminist who wanted a career over marriage and domesticity which were the norm in those days.
The screenplay of the 2019 production by the director, Gerwig, has taken from two of the books in the series, Little Women and Good Wives. It shuttles between the two contextualising the actions of the movie between the first, Little Women and the second, Good Wives — this being the story where the little women, the four sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy— find their futures and three of them their spouses. The movement is smooth — it has a feminist touch with the sisters looking for independence and having their own dreams. The dialogues are powerful and well-wrought in feminist thought where independence and tolerance for difference of perspectives are highlighted.
Louisa M Alcott was a transcendentalist and a feminist — and you can see her spirit and values in the film, which did a better job of projecting them than the 1994 production with Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder. The 1994 movie focused only on the four sisters and felt very close to the storyline of Alcott but not as much in spirit as the 2019 movie. This film, despite its shuttling felt more empathetic, more rounded — and wholly more satisfying. The focus is more on feminist trends and the dialogues based as such made the movie more relevant in the current day context.
There were no special effects to speak of, but all life is not about special effects. It is an immersive, emotional experience which actually rolls out a welcome to all to empathise, feel the cathartic flow when life and love blossoms along with the ebbing of existence. And this movie captures just that. A fabulous, family friendly treat— should be a must for every child and adult!
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