Great Expectations (1998)

"Everything I've ever done, I've done for you." Finn

"Everything I've ever done, I've done for you." Finn


Great Expectations (1998) is a spellbinding visual romance.

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

Starring Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Cooper, Hank Azaria, Robert Deniro and Anne Bancroft.

Alfonso starts the film by having Ethan say, "I'm not going to tell the story the way it happened. I'm going to tell you the way I remember it." Telling the story as you remember it, not as it happened, is the golden rule of cinema. Cuaron understood that Charles Dickens classic story needed a visual interpretation not a literary reproduction.

Film is a visual medium first and foremost. Get the visuals right and the audience will disappear into the story and elevate it to great heights. There are four key visual elements to why this film works for its audience. The director, cinematographer, artist and actors all help create a visually stunning story that allows the audience to inhabit the world they created.

The movie is breathtaking to watch. Giving a bit more background to each character would have helped the overall story. When a film has this many important persons, a director needs to find a way to give the back story of each character. Back stories help the audience empathize with each character's conflicts and dramas. I'm reminded of another film released at the same time as Great Expectations. Tom Tykwer, brilliantly handled all of his characters back stories in Lola Rennt - Run Lola Run (1998) by using photo montages. Each characters past, present and future were succinctly shown in a series of photos which informed his audience about their lives. I think back stories for each character are especially important for films using written works, as their source material. Audiences come into the movie theater having already read the story and are expecting the same level of character detail in its film version. The problem filmmakers have, is that cinema needs to condense a long story. Editing is a directors best friend in tightening a story. I need to mention the the art work throughout the film. It was created by Francesco Clemente. Francesco's art is haunting, moving, intimate and silently helps the narration of the story.

The scene below is a beautiful example of how Cuaron's masterful direction, Emmanuel Lubezki's opulent camera work and Steven Weisberg's stylish editing help make two children's simple kiss into an intimate adult memory for the audience. The power of cinema's visual grandeur to help an audience fantasize cannot be overstated. Enjoy!

Trivia - Ms. Dismoor's mansion in Florida is actually Ca d' Zan. John Ringling, the founder of Ringling Brothers Circus, built it in Sarasota, Florida for him and his wife Mable.