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Based on the novel of the same name by Edith Wharton, it is about a husband and wife (Ethan and Zeena), who need an extra hand around the house due to Zeena's debilitated body and constant illness. The young woman who joins them is a beautiful, spirited person. She and Ethan fall in love much to the dismay of Zeena. Written by
Jason Ihle <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In a winter scene early in the film, a Red-eyed Vireo can be heard singing in the dead of winter in Massachusetts. These birds winter in Amazonia, and arrive in Massachusetts in late spring. See more »
A satisfactorily uncomfortable adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel.
Ethan Frome is one of those stories that is meant to be uncomfortable and unattractive, so if you were put off by either the novel or the movie, it just shows that they succeeded in what they set out to do. Personally, I am slightly ashamed to admit that the novel bored me nearly to tears, but this film version not only refreshed the story in my memory but also breathed a much needed bit of life into the literary version, which is something that I rarely say about a film version of a novel. Before I go on, however, I would like to point out that I realize how much is lost in the transition from novel to film, in that the film is not able to capture Wharton's writing style and there are scenes that are taken out and artistic liberties taken with the material, but as far as a structured story, this is a worthwhile adaptation.
Liam Neeson brilliantly portrays the fated Ethan Frome, a character who is in an unhappy marriage to a wife who is more interested in the social status achieved by being married than in Ethan as a person. Zeena, his wife (played by Joan Allen), is a woman who has become embittered by her life as the wife of a poor man (as Ethan describes her at one point) and the fact that any scrap of love or passion has leaked completely out of her marriage, which was pretty dry to begin with. When Mattie (Patricia Arquette) comes to live with them, things begin to fall apart much more seriously than the emotional way in which the marriage between Ethan and Zeena has long since crumbled.
There are a lot of religious and social undertones throughout the film, as we struggle with Ethan and Mattie, watching them desperately falling in love with each other but each as helpless to do anything about it as the other. Ethan can't leave Zeena for religious reasons, and social reasons as well, since he will be disrespected by the community if he does that (which is a little strange, since you would think there would be even more disapproval from the fact that Ethan and Zeena are distant cousins). And besides that, Ethan has moral reasons of his own for not wanting to leave Zeena, feeling that he has an obligation to her that prevents him from leaving her alone and helpless. This obligation is, of course, derived mainly from Zeena having put so much effort into caring for Ethan's mother before she passed away, an extended act of charity of which she constantly reminds him.
Patricia Arquette delivers a fine performance in the role as Mattie Silver, although her iconography since making this film has completely changed the way she is seen in movies and makes her role as Mattie slightly less believable. But Liam Neeson is the actor here who deserves the most recognition, I can't even imagine someone portraying Ethan Frome more accurately as far as the way he was described in the book than what Neeson did in this film. If you're studying this book in school, it would probably be a good idea to just go ahead and read the book, because this movie is not going to inform you enough to be able to pass a test on the novel, but it certainly works as far as entertainment or as a way to complement the book.
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