Great Expectations (1946)

The showing at the Lexi this month was David Lean’s Great Expectations. It was very well attended; whether it was due to being half-term or to the film itself is difficult to establish. It seems that the non U3A attendance grows month after month.

But because it was  half-term we had to give way to the children show. Thus we were  deprived  of the exchange time at the end of the film and there was no time to examine Lean’s skill at story telling,  his cinematography, editing or his attitude to adaptation from novels : “…choose what you want to do in the novel and do it proud. If necessary cut characters. Don’t keep every character, just take a sniff of each one.”

Most of the audience had seen the film before. Many of them remarked that they had forgotten how good it was.

From my point of view, I was struck by what I will call the ‘stuck in the past’ syndrome.   Miss Havisham and Norma Desmond are both old women who live in the past. First why do we perceive them as old when their physical characteristics in both films do not signify old age? Neither Miss Havisham’s nor Norma’s physique show the usual signs of advancing age. They do not convey frailty but both are commanding in their speech and  the use of their power.  The impression of age is conveyed in both films by the mise-en-scene. In both we have the house and specially the rooms where these two women live. It is indeed the decor that conveys the state of mind of each of them.  Whereas Norma’s environment shows her past glory with the countless photos of her stardom and magnificence of her wardrobe , in Miss Havisham’s case it is time that is frozen in the traumatic moment of her being jilted. This is shown by the signs of deterioration of the physical environment: the dust and spider webs and mice gnawing at the cake. Miss Havisham’s clothes also play a part in this creepy feelings.  Deterioration in Sunset Boulevard is mainly in the garden where there are rats scuttling  around.  Unfortunately  I have no time to examine in details the mise-en-scene of the two films. But I cannot stop myself from asking: what does what I call  the ‘stuck in the past syndrome’ means in terms of  the ageing woman ? Are there other similar characters female or men in the cinema or literature?

It also so intriguing that David Lean included ‘The Ageing Parent” in his adaptation of the novel. Brief scene but so pleasant a portrayal of a demented old man.

About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
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2 Responses to Great Expectations (1946)

  1. Elizabeth O'Dell says:

    How much does ‘being stuck in the past’ depend upon what we have hoped for/planned for our future? It is painful to realise that life has not turned out to be what we expected it to be. I can witness to feelings of disappointment as I
    reflect upon my own life experience. However, I have discovered a strand of optimism
    in my outlook and am surprised to discover that I do find much to enjoy in my life.
    But we can only speak for ourselves, so I would not generalise from the characters
    in the film. Those who lived a simpler life appeared to enjoy their lives more.
    As for the film, this was my first viewing. I would have sat through it again, on the
    spot, if time had allowed. There is so much to take in, and I have never read the

    • rinaross says:

      Thanks Elizabeth. Yes there is nostalgia, and regrets etc… I am looking for the inability of a character to forget and move. Of course in both cases the women depend on the look of others. Norma existed only through the eyes of her fans and Miss Havisham was traumatised by being jilted by a man.

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