This film touched me on a level few films every do – so much so that it is not in my top ten films of all time.
That is no easy feat.
There are great films, and there are masterpieces.
This is a masterclass in filmmaking. I have often been asked what makes a film a masterpiece and there is a checklist for this sort of thing:
- Character Arc(s)
- Emotional impact
- How the film deals with its “ideas”
There are plenty of others, but these are easily the fist that comes to mind.
This film’s story(ies) is(are) exceptionally depicted. The plot is simply a story of people growing up and dealing with life…and that sounds boring. However, the characters are so rich and the narrative so engaging that we come to care for almost everyone we meet.
2. Character Arc(s)
To my recollection, only two characters remain static: this is no easy task as there are close to ten characters that the film has to juggle about a dozen characters. Every actor does something rarely seen in film – they all make their characters personable, believable, interesting, and empathetic. Each character matters and no one is thrown away. Since the film follows two different narratives (explained below), the actors easily transition from children to adults without much difficulty.
Sometimes, the simplest technique makes the biggest difference. The film’s narrative is told in a traditional “present” with “past” flashbacks. What makes this so easy to keep up with and differentiate is the color palette: the past is colored as a rich summer day with warm colors and an arid glow, while the present is a steely blue and stark greys. This effortless technique allows the audience to easily maintain the chronology of the narrative.
The score is delightful. The mud under the characters’ feet sounds rich. The icebreaking, the snow falling, the wind through the trees, the horses trotting, the silverware clinking, everything sounds right.
With the back and forth narrative, the pacing of the film is brisk and whimsical. For those who have read the book, the film lightly skips the non-essential parts and focusses more on the cause/effect dynamics the characters enact upon each other. The film holds the shots it needs to and moves on when appropriate: all the shots are there that need to be and nothing is wasted.
This film’s authentic costuming doesn’t feel clumsy or forced like some period pieces can. Instead, it feels lived in and worn. It looks like how the characters sound.
7. Emotional impact
If you don’t care about the characters, the film doesn’t matter. The characters carry the weight of the film’s message and theme. As a parent of three girls (we’re not trying for a boy nor do we desire another girl), this film resonates with me because it tells the story of sister daughters growing up with conflicting personalities, character quirks, desires/needs, and philosophies. The fact that you don’t think about these or have to constantly remind yourself about what each character “means” because it is so engrained into the performances and costuming (two characters costumes were made to appear that the two characters share clothes even though they never draw attention to it in the film advertently).
8. How the film deals with its “ideas”
The film is feminist but not in a misandrist manner: women can be themselves and “don’t need no man” to discover their meaning, value, and purpose. This is the type of feminism that Christians should/can embrace: just as a man’s identity isn’t contingent on their spouse, neither is that of the woman’s. With each of the four daughters are radically different from one another, there is one consistent thread that weaves them all together: they are all discovering themselves under the watchful care of their Christian mother, and though faith takes a backseat in the story, it is impossible for the viewer to accept the four different philosophies as true/believable outside the Christian faith.
This is not an SJW film, although many people will read that ideology into it: its a fascinatingly subtle film that wrestles with identity, faith, meaning, purpose, and the value, not only of the Little Women, but of us all.