Jane Austen is one of the most famous English writers whose works became really popular in the twentieth century. It is but natural that these works have been interpreted differently at different times.
It can be interesting to trace differences and similarities between the author’s novels written in terms of values of the nineteenth century and modern film versions which reveal modern interpretation of the ideas articulated by the famous author. Therefore, it is possible to analyze Emma (1815) and two versions of the film: the free version of the novel Clueless (1995) and another version which is closely based on the novel Emma (1996).
It is possible to focus on one of the most important extracts of the novel, i.e. the time when Emma understands her true feelings towards Mr. Knightley. The two film versions reveal this part quite differently. Admittedly, it is always rather difficult to depict character’s feelings and reasoning in a film.
However, the films in questions reveal Emma’s doubts and commitment quite well, though Clueless (1995) is still more precise. Apart from this, the two versions confirm that when it comes to people’s romantic relationships nothing has changed since the nineteenth century as only settings change whereas people always remain unchanged.
Admittedly, one of the most important extracts of the novel is the one when Emma understands that she does love Mr. Knightley. This is a very important passage for the novel as the author “punishes” her heroine for being so self-confident. Austen articulates a very important idea: no one can try to make people attached to each other as this mystery of God can never be revealed. The author also stipulates that those who still try to intervene in such a mysterious affairs will be punished.
Interestingly, Austen devotes only few passages to describe Emma’s feelings and her reasoning on the matter. The author reveals her particular thoughts:
The rest of the day, the following night, were hardly enough for her thoughts. She was bewildered amidst the confusion of all that had rushed on her within the last few hours… How to understand the deceptions she had… living under! The blunders, the blindness of her own head and heart! (Austen Chapter 47)
Austen describes Emma’s unrest and her disappointment. Emma understands her mistakes and reconciles to God’s mysterious ways. This reconciliation leads to Emma’s happiness.
It is necessary to note that this passage can be rather difficult to reveal in a film. There are many ways to do it: voice over, a dialogue, heroine’s monologue, etc. However, these all means should be perfectly thought over and performed. The two films use different means to reveal this important part of the novel.
Thus, in Emma (1996) filmmakers use the dialogue between Emma and her close friend. Emma tells her friend about her feelings towards Mr. Knightley. Basically, the filmmakers make Emma simply describe her unrest during the conversation.
Admittedly, the scene is appealing and ‘Austen-like’. Thus, the filmmakers have chosen a beautiful garden as the mis-en-scene. Natural light is used which makes the scene really natural and appealing. The two women go across the garden and camera follows them. This motion makes the scene very lively and energetic.
Emma stops to talk about her feelings and camera focuses on Emma’s face. The woman reveals her deep emotions towards the man she loves. The motion (women’s walk) reveals Emma’s unrest and her search for her true feelings. When the two women stop, it is clear that Emma has made up her mind and she knows what is happening. She understands her true feelings, her true self. The camera also approaches Emma’s face through green twigs to stop when Emma admits: “I love him” (Emma).
It is also important to note that the film is really close to the novel. Costumes of the nineteenth century and the dialogues recreate the atmosphere of Austen’s novel. Apart from this, romantic music enhances the tension and contributes greatly to the depiction of an intimate conversation typical for the nineteenth century.
As far as Clueless (1995) is concerned, the filmmakers also use natural light and outdoor setting, which is quite different from that of Emma (1996). Cher, modern Emma, walks along her favorite places in Beverly Hills. In fact, this is very close to the novel as it depicts her unrest perfectly well. Austen writes about Emma’s attempts to do different things like walking, sitting, etc. This is what Cher does. She is trying to amuse herself.
Of course, a modern posh girl can hardly find peace in a peaceful place like a garden. Such a modern heroine heads towards boutiques and nice parks and streets. Thus, camera follows Cher walking along beautiful urban sites. There are hardly close-up shots. There are only two: when Cher starts asking herself why is she thinking of Josh and when she realizes that she loves him.
Interestingly to enhance the idea of her enlightenment, the filmmakers use a fountain which is enlightened and sparkling at the moment when Cher understands her true feelings: “Oh, my God, I love Josh” (Clueless). Music also plays a very important role revealing Cher’s feelings. Of course, this is one of the most popular songs of the twentieth century which can be referred to as an anthem of all urban girls and especially women. “All by Myself” performed by Jewel is a very good back sound for the episode.
Finally, the filmmakers use various shots depicting Josh and Cher together. These flashbacks reveal the girl’s reasoning perfectly well. More so, it is possible to state that the modern version better reveals the novel’s extract. Ironically, it is closer to the original than the film which depicts the nineteenth century society. Clueless depicts modern Emma who tries to figure out what her true feelings are. The girl wanders, recollects, contemplates. All this is perfectly depicted in the film of 1995 (see fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Storyboard of the scene from Clueless (1995).
To sum up, the two film versions use different means to reveal one of the most important extracts of the novel. The filmmakers of the two films had different visions and different objectives. However, the two films were equally good when revealing the woman’s reasoning and her doubts. The two Emmas are quite different but they are just the same when it comes to true feelings.
Of course, it is quite difficult to make a film version of such a popular novel as everyone has read it and everyone has specific vision. However, Emma and Clueless are good examples of how such versions should be made. The two versions are equally good. However, Clueless is more precise when depicting the exact reasoning.
The motion of the heroine and the snapshots used best reveal her unrest and her enlightenment. Nonetheless, it is necessary to add that the two films reach the major goal of any movie as they reveal the society of the twentieth century which is just the same as the society of the nineteenth century when it comes to feelings.
Austen, Jane. Emma. University of Virginia Library, 1994. Web. 25 Apr. 2012.
Clueless. Dir. Amy Heckerling. Perf. Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash. Paramount, 1995. DVD.
Emma. Dir. Douglas McGrath. Perf. Gwyneth Paltrow, James Cosmo. Miramax, 1996. DVD.