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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
slightly ashamed to admit that the novel bored me nearly to tears, but
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
rarely say about a film version of a novel. Before I go on, however, I
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
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.
The photography is one of the best aspects of the film. The depressing snow and freezing temperature really come across well. The acting is good. In particular, Joan Allen shines as the sickly wife and Liam Neeson is very sympathetic as Ethan. The essential weaknesses of plot derive more from the novella than the director; the theme is not that relevant for modern audiences and some of the criticism levelled against it is undeserved. The plot is faithful to the original although one character is changed from an engineer to a clergyman. The poverty of the town is very well illustrated and gives an alternative view to some Victorian set films.
When Richard Nelson set out to adapt Edith Wharton's classic novel
Ethan Frome to the silver screen, he could have never imaged that he would
surpass the novel in quality. Marvelous casting and cinematography, as well
as a befitting musical score by Rachel Portman, create the perfect
audio/visual setting for an American classic.
Ethan Frome is the story of a man broken by his illicit love for his wife's housekeeper cousin. Starting from the present, the story flashes back to many years earlier before the accident that crippled Ethan. His wife Zeena becomes sick and sends for her cousin Mattie to take care of her. Ethan and Mattie fall deeply in love while Zeena becomes sicker and sicker.
While staying largely true to the novel, Richard Nelson makes changes to the story that perhaps Edith Wharton should have considered when writing her tragedy. The identity of the character investigating into Ethan's past has been altered from an engineer to a preacher, a more sensible profession in the context of the story. The depth of Ethan's relationship with Mattie also goes much deeper then in the novel. While perhaps this change could be criticized, it works better for the modern audience in understanding events to come. One of these events, an attempted suicide by Ethan's lover Mattie, was absent from the book yet again helps the viewing audience to feel the intense emotions of the movie. Well-chosen deletions from the book also help pacing while not infringing on its essence.
Perhaps the greatest attribute of "Ethan Frome" is its high-quality acting. Liam Neeson, staring as Ethan Frome, delivers an astounding performance. Perfecting both his character's physical ailment and emotional turmoil, he communicates the part as though it was written for him. Patricia Arquette equalizes Neeson's performance as Ethan's forbidden love Mattie Silver. There are several scenes in which dialogue is not needed to understand what Arquette's character is feeling. Lastly, Joan Allen does a phenomenal job in portraying Ethan's sickly wife Zeena. Though not as antagonistic as in the novel, she none-the-less conveys a meaningful performance.
What gives the movie version of Ethan Frome the edge over its book counterpart is the visual experience and the haunting soundtrack. The camera truly captures the melancholy of the land. There is not a moment in which the atmosphere of the setting does not match the emotional performance of the actors. Rachel Portman also composes a recurrent theme that portrays the spirit of the novel. The music, along with the camera work, help to set the kind of mood that words cannot in this instance. "Ethan Frome" wonderfully tells the story that Edith Wharton meant to in her novel. Outstanding acting and beautiful camera work make "Ethan Frome" a deeply moving film. Those who read the book will be mystified by the superiority of the movie over the novel. Those just interested in a heartfelt tale of forbidden love will not be disappointed either. Though it runs just over an hour-and-a-half, it is paced well and does not rush. As a whole, "Ethan Frome" is highly recommended.
Ethan Frome (1993)
This is a classic Edith Wharton melodrama, a hyper-romantic short novel that has turned on and turned off many high schoolers and literature majors over the years. It's a great story and it's hard to go totally wrong with it, but it's an old fashioned story, and more slow and steady than filled with amazing or surprising turns and emotional insights.
Another way to put it is: it isn't a Bronte novel.
So a movie version of Ethan Frome has to find some way of pulling us in very deeply, through characterization, through ambiance, through an attention so small things that make the main plot take on resonance. None of that quite happens here.
The photography makes clear from the first scenes that it is very careful, which isn't a bad thing. The whole film has a steady, beautiful, somewhat constrained quality, using lots of available light. We watch the title character, played by Liam Neeson, with a growing sense of calm partly because of the camera. When we discover the relationship between Frome and his wife, and then with his wife's relative who has come to "help" them with chores, it is always bordering on stiff. I think this is meant to imply a formality to life at the turn of the century (the book was written in 1911 and set a few years earlier). But to my mind people were not so poised, or afraid, or following puritanical strictures as all that.
At any rate, the move ends up weirdly flat as a result. We know the events are romantically intense, but we don't get swept away by them. It's surprising no movie version has been attempted before this one. And it will be surprising if another is tried, hopefully with more effect. This isn't at all bad, nothing glaring here, but being "not bad" isn't quite the idea in the end.
Liam Neeson is astounding. The rest of the cast is very good as well.
Though poor Joan Allen has the misfortune of being required to grate on the
nerves. Tate Donovan was a nice find as well, as the new preacher in town,
I think I enjoyed him more here than in any other film in which I've seen
Back, however, to Neeson. From the opening moments when you see him trudging through the snow to the sexual energy he exudes without showing skin to the final moments of deep pain and confusion, he is is phenomenal. He is THE reason to see this film.
It could have been that I was home ill (ironic when you consider the plot) when I saw the film, but I'm not so sure the pace wasn't a little below the speed necessary for people to get truly wrapped into the story and characters. Yet, I stuck through the whole thing, because I was transfixed by Neeson's performance.
He is one of the greats! I always feel warmed after watching him perform.
These are New England country folks, as quiet and as repressed as they are in Edith Wharton's novel. Not so much repressed, actually, as they are clumsy and inexperienced. When something extraordinary happens to their emotions, they scarcely know what to do. This conflict has been played for laughs by many writers over the years, because it does lend itself to comedy. Wharton chose to write a tragedy, and this movie captures the essence of Wharton's vision far better than The Age of Innocence, thanks largely to the direction and the superb cast. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although I found the acting excellent, and the cinematography beautiful, I
was extremely disappointed with the adaptation.
One of the significant portions of the novella is the fact that Ethan and Mattie decide to kill themselves, rather than go on. This is never presented in the movie, they show it as if it were a sledding accident.
The character changes in Mattie and Zenna are almost non-existent. While in the novella they almost change places, at the end of this adaptation it appears as if they are both invalids.
Lastly that Mattie and Ethan consummate their relationship fully nearly destroys the power and poignancy of the finale.
The change of the narrator being a preacher was one effective change.
Neeson and Arquette are superb in their portrayals. Joan Allen was also wonderful, however her character was much watered down from Whartons novella.
I do not expect films to faithfully portray novels, but this one went to far and in the process nearly destroyed the story.
Overall, I would not recommend watching this film unless you have read the book as you will come away confused and disappointed.
Based on the book by Edith Wharton, XIX century renowned American writer, is a drama that reflects in a painful way the sufferings of a poor peasant family in rural New England. Blend in the community that makes up this social group as well as in the family are elements of discrimination, abuse, confusion of values, insecurities, of indifference, lack of solidarity and passion that give the viewer a grim and sad picture about human dignity. An unknown narrator takes care to present the story to the viewer in flashback after the arrival of a new pastor who decide to visit his parishioners one by one until it meets with the main characters. The feeling that is transmitted, despite the excellent photography and beautiful winter scenery is depression and pain. Good performance by Liam Neeson. The book should be better.
I must say outright that this book is one of the best Edith Wharton books
you could possibly read, so I was a little dubious going into this
I was pleasantly surprised though by the detail and care that the director and actors put into it, although I would quibble with one point- I found that rather than the Whartonian 'repression', the performers seemed to be awkwardly stumbling with their emotions- it's a fine line to be sure.
Liam Neeson does a wonderful job in this film, beautifully nuanced performance, and Joan Allen (as always) just about walks away with the film.
Absolutely worth a viewing, but try the book first, it's superb.
I watched this movie yesterday night. It made me cry! Then I dreamed of
it at night, and when I woke up I still had a melancholy feeling in my
stomach and a sweet pain in my heart. Very few movies or novels affect
me this strongly nowadays!
The depiction is bleak but romantic, tender, and very, very fine. The actors are all very good in their parts. This is one of those love stories that make you take the side of the adulterous couple, however much you are against such behaviour in ordinary cases. Mutual love can be so hard to find, and when you find it but cannot have it because of circumstances in the world around, you "never want to leave this hill"...
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