Two months ago, I did the unthinkable: I watched a movie before I read the book. A disgrace, I know. But my grandpa invited my mom and I to the cinema in for which he volunteers. So with my mom, my grandpa and his girlfriend and a host of other people who were glad everything was starting to open up after the lockdown, I sat down in one of the front row seats for the first time in my life – thanks, 1.5 metre guidelines! – to watch Little Women.
2019’s Little Women is one of the many adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868-69 book. It is 2 hours and 15 minutes long and tells the story of the four March sisters: Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth, who live in America in the 1860’s. The story is told through Jo’s eyes. The scenes and colours are beautiful and lively, making it comfortable to watch. Central themes include marriage, sexism, death and growing up.
Unlike other adaptations and the book, the Little Women 2019 movie tells the story in a series of flashbacks and scenes in the present. This took quite some getting used to. Eventually, I got the hang of it and learned to realise when something took place by noticing the colour coding, but in some places it made the movie spoil itself: how am I supposed to be invested in a relationship I know is doomed to failure because you showed me the same characters having a relationship with someone else in the first 10 minutes of the movie? On the other hand, once I understood how everything worked the way the story was told was really fun in some places, heartbreaking in others and comforting when its needed.
From what I’ve heard, the ending of the movie is different than the ending in the book. I can’t say too much, but basically the director, Greta Gerwig, didn’t agree with the book but still needed a way to explain the fact that the original book had the ending she didn’t like, so she constructed a whole explanation that I only got when I walked out of the theatre. To be honest, I liked the way the ending was left semi-open, although I don’t completely agree with either the book’s ending or the movie’s ending.
Jo is the central character. She is struggling with her anger issues and is trying to figure out when it is okay to be angry and when it is excessive. This is especially hard as she has a lot of problems that any normal human being would get angry about. One of the show’s main conflicts is Jo deciding if she wants to marry. She is firmly against the idea of marriage, every marriage around her being a warped image of what should be a teamship. She believes that if she will marry she will have to stop doing everything she loves and start acting like a lady taking care of children and a household – and in her society, she’s not wrong. Because of this she turns down a marriage proposal, hurting the man who asks her very much.
Amy is Jo’s younger sister. In some parts, it’s rather hard to believe she’s really 13 years old, the actress Florence Pugh being 23 years old. Mostly, it’s easy to ignore, but in one scene she’s in a classroom with real 13-year-olds and, to be honest, it looks kind of ridiculous. Other than that, Pugh pulled the “whiny-brat-turned-slightly-more-mature” thing off very well. I didn’t really like her character: Amy was egotistical and petty. There were moments where she was a nice person, and she was very hardworking, but on the whole the decisions she made were dramatic and negatively affected the people around her.
Beth wasn’t in the spotlight much, and when she was, it was a gentle moment. This seemed very much to line up with her shy nature. To sum her up she was the shy, gentle, sweet, forgiving, peaceful music-loving baby sister. On the one hand, it was kind of sad we didn’t learn much more about her, but it did line up well with her humble and content personality.
Meg is the oldest sister. She was played by Emma Watson, which was a strange decision, especially in the scenes where Meg was a lot older and married and had a pair of children. Not only was the fact that she is a massively famous actor a bit distracting, she was just clearly not a middle-aged woman. But I have to admit: she isn’t only very famous, she’s also very talented. With a bit of effort, I could really see her being Meg. Meg is a typical older sister: caring, responsible and down-to-earth, although we see her being very susceptible to peer pressure in her youth and having bad moments later on. I was very happy with the way the movie dealed with this.
Laurie is love interest to both Jo and Amy (actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that). He lives next to the four March sisters and is raised by his grandfather. He would rather never grow up and become a mature, or, as he sees it: “a gentleman”. He is used to getting what he wants. His comfortable lifestyle contrasts with the strict upbringing of the four March girls. His character was very interesting, and his actor portrayed his hurt and vulnerable side very well.
Messages (no warnings, yay!)
First, a small annoyance: you know that funny thing where modern movies poke fun at rich people in past ages by making them complain about being poor even though they have various servants? I hate it. Even if it’s meant to mock the people complaining, I cannot stand it and just want to shout at my screen: “Bro, you’ve got a servant and a huge manor, shut up!” To be fair: I don’t know whether the girls said this kind of thing in the book, too, but anyway. Later in the movie there were definitely scenes in which they were badly off – and even had to get rid of their servant, how horrible – but they still weren’t as poor as the family that we saw various times during the movie. That’s a positive: the sisters did learn that there were people who were poorer than they were shortly after complaining, even though only Beth actually kept helping these people and didn’t get too caught up in her own world to see others’ misery.
From the previous paragraph, I think it’s clear that this movie has a lot of character growth in it. It’s a bit like a coming-of-age movie, with a lot of character development and personality problems. These problems contain vanity, jealosy, anger, conformity and not being considerate. It was good seeing how the movie dealed with these problems in a real way, not being afraid of raw emotions. Another big theme was death: when the sisters have to cope with the death of a loved one, they all do it in different ways. The movie doesn’t focus on life after death or the meaning of life, more on the way people move on but still remember and how a person can leave a gaping hole in a space you didn’t know could be empty.
An important theme in the Little Women 2019 movie is sexism and how it affects women. Meg and Amy, who both are fine with the “house wife” life, don’t mind stereotypes as much, but Amy and Jo, who dream of good careers and being succesful, struggle to cope with society’s expecting them to marry and settle down, let alone the belittling comments they get because they’re women trying to make it. Not being a history buff, I have no idea how realistic it is that they stand up against this so clearly, but they did make some valid points, although marriage was portrayed in a rather negative light. Marriage might have not been a fair thing at all in their society, but God’s plan for marriage is beautiful, even if it is not for everyone, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 7.
As I already mentioned, Jo struggles constantly with the idea of marriage. The world around her has changed marriage to be a thing that limits women and so she naturally believes any type of marriage is oppression. She is confused when Meg is happy in her marriage even though she had to let some dreams slide because of it. This whole conflict could be a good starting point for a conversation about marriage, what it should be and gender roles.
The Little Women 2019 movie is a creatively told story of four sisters who find their way through the world of 1860’s America. It portrays good values, but raises fair and interesting questions about morality, discrimination and even death. Although young children will probably find it boring, it is okay for any age to watch. The scenes and colours are beautiful and look great. The movie definitely urged me to plan on reading Little Women. You know, once I finish the seven books I have on my list already.