Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Go Far from the Madding Crowd with Thoroughly Modern Carey: My take on the movie


What to say about Far from the Madding Crowd; the feminista film starring one of my favorite British actresses Carey Mulligan? Or since it is a film with a feminist flavor should I go with female actor? Or, to be fully evolved, do I pretend there's no difference between the sexes and just call Carey Mulligan an actor? It's very confusing especially for an old girl like me, growing up as a boomer, straddling the era when most women stayed home to raise a family, and the period when a newly liberated bra burning brand of women donned pant suits, rolled up their sleeves and got to work. I marched for the Equal Rights Amendment back in the 70's and appreciated the sloganistic power of A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. 

And yet still needed a man. Dammit. 

That basic push/pull is at the heart of the lush and romantic Far From the Madding Crowd the Thomas Vinterberg film based on Thomas Hardy's classic novel. When Gabriel Oak asks Bathsheba to marry him, so early in the film that the credits have barely finished rolling, and we're still absorbing just how gorgeous and dripping with deep blues, and soft purples and 50 shades of green the landscape is, it feels discordant and out of the blue to our modern ears. They barely know each other! But in Hardy's day (1874) men and women, the average ones anyway, were fairly direct about their need for each other. While the best marriages were much more, at heart, marriage was a business proposition. Woman needs shelter, and if she's lucky, some pretty dresses, and as Bathsheba's suitors promise, perhaps a piano to play. Man needs cook, cleaner, wife to bear and raise his heirs. If they're both lucky: friendship, respect, comfort. And if they're really lucky, in the words of Emily Dickinson—
Wild nights Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury. 
                                                    

When Bathsheba refuses Oak, telling him she'll never marry—I'd need a man to tame me and you never could—she is really going against the norms of her times. She's a woman of little means who actually needs what he can provide. She's also voicing our hearts' desire. Oh! Would that I could never be tamed! Would that I could stay a solitary spirit and ride over these grassy meadows on my own, going where I want to go, doing what I want to do, without having to follow the usual path, the prescribed route. Riding free. 



There's a scene straight out of the book when Bathsheba, gorgeously donned in a chestnut leather riding jacket—thank you very much costume designer Janet Patterson—goes riding horseback through the woods along the hillsides. As she approaches a thicket where the tree boughs hang too low for her to pass under sitting upright, she looks around to make sure no one is in sight, and lays back on her horse so she can pass underneath, the green canopy floating above. The unladylike position, almost sexual as she grips the horse with her thighs, and lies back with complete abandon, affords a delicious sensation and is emblematic of not just Bathsheba's desire, but her elemental need, to go her own way. When she inherits her uncle's farm and fortune (my wealthy uncle donated all $650,000 to a children's hospital) she actually has the luxury of doing that. And yet, like most of us, she also finds she has a need to pair up, for a partner to yin to her yang.



The independent Ms. Everdene has three suitors: Gabriel Oak, as strong and steadfast as his name implies, played by a smoldering blue-eyed Matthias Schoenaerts. Bathsheba may be stubbornly immune to his charms but he had me at hello. 

Then there's the nice guy next door, the well to do, Mr. Boldwood (lots of wood here in these male character's name while I'm pretty sure Mr. Hardy wasn't familiar with the concept of a woody) portrayed by nice guy Michael Sheen. Surely it's not a spoiler to remind you where nice guys finish? 



And lastly, Frank Troy, the soldier with the sword, the bad boy of the trio. Have you watched the NY Times Anatomy of a Scene where Bathsheba and Frank meet up in the woods? I posted it a few weeks ago here. Tom Sturridge plays Frank, and I'll be frank, I find him a whole lot more resistible than Bathsheba does. Swoon-worthy? Not to me. He reminded me, with both his mustache and his fake 'You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen' of this guy I went out on one date with in my youth. On our one and only date he sang me a song he supposedly wrote for me. I've always been immune to that kind of B.S. — I was pretty sure it was a song he kept in his pocket, swapping out one girl's name for another, just to 'get into their pants' as we used to say. (Do they still?) Not surprisingly, Mr. Troy's charms were lost on me. His behavior, and the behavior he elicits in Bathsheba, in complete opposition to everything she stands for, is toxic. I felt like a mother watching her daughter dating some messed up, two-faced, two-timing son of a gun, praying it wouldn't last, that she'd come out of her sexual delirium and come to her senses. 

Does she or doesn't she? If you've read the book, you know. If you haven't, who am I to spoil it for you.

If you're in the mood to let yourself be carried away, catch Far from the Madding Crowd while it's still in theaters. The costumes by Patterson are sumptuous, the hillsides and cliffs of Dorset, the moody blue color palette, the exquisite camera work of Charlotte Bruus Christensen deserving of the big screen treatment. And the performances of, and chemistry between Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan will sweep you right off your feet. 




More Madding Crowd: Watch Carey Sing to her Suitors

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