Girl With a Pearl Earring

Recommended with qualifications. A fictional story of the historical Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and the occasion of his famous painting, “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” The girl is portrayed as a maidservant hired by Jan’s wife, whose beauty becomes the inspiration for said masterpiece. It is a story about adultery. But not your classic tale of physical infidelity. There is never a consummation. But rather, it is about the reality of adultery of the heart. Jesus said that to even lust after a woman who is not your wife is considered adultery of the heart by God and is just as serious. Boy, that one doesn’t go over too well in modern society. But it is treated with exquisite subtlety and profundity here. Using an artist to do so is the most believable because artists are obsessed with beauty. They can spot and adore minute sensual details: the curve of a neck, the delicacy of an eyelash, every hair on a woman’s head, even to the perfect placement of a single strand. We artists can really worship every detail of beauty and thus can be the perfect metaphor for the reality of inner lust. Colin Firth plays Vermeer with understated poise and passion. Scarlett Johannson is hauntingly perfect for the role as Griet, the Girl with a Pearl Earring. This movie is like a dutch painting in many of it’s scenes as well as the minimalist dialogue with an emphasis on repressed passion. It is powerful. I have a couple problems with it. First, the ending is very Bridges of Madison County selfishness. It sets up the ravishes of adultery of the heart, but plays for the passion of lust over the passion of love. Griet is let go when Vermeer’s wife discovers she is the apple of his eye. That the girl can understand beauty and color and light like a painter. Because Griet has more in common with Jan than his own wife. The pearl earring is a powerful metaphor for the heart’s treasure as it is Vermeer’s wife’s favorite most exquisite and treasured piece of jewelry, the act of wearing alone which proves a violation of the marriage intimacy. It’s all really quite spiritual without capitulating to mere symbolism or allegory. I mean you really sense what is going on in the hearts of these people between the lines of their outward behavior. It’s brilliant storytelling that incarnates the theme in the behavior of the characters, not merely their words. And the last shot shows Griet receiving the treasured pearl earrings from Vermeer as a gift, indicating very clearly that she has his heart even without the physical consummation. This is the typical Existentialist or Romantic ethic that places passion as the highest value over honor. Follow your heart over do your duty. (And yes, another topic I write an entire chapter about in my book, Hollywood Worldviews). It had such good potential to end tragically for the moral high ground, but chose selfishness as virtue. Ah, will we ever be rid of self-obsessed selfish Romanticism? My second problem has to do with it being a fictional speculative interpretation of a real person’s life. I have a real love/hate relationship with this postmodern fictionalizing of non-fiction. On the one hand, I don’t have a big problem with telling a speculative story if you remain true to the spirit of the historical people or event (Witness Braveheart). But on the other hand, if your story impugns someone’s character as does this story with Vermeer (It accuses him of previous infidelity and suggests it as an ongoing character trait), and you have no evidence of such failings, then you are instilling unfair prejudice against a person. I am not aware that there is any knowledge of such behavior in Vermeer’s life, but if there was, even rumors of it, then that would be fine to portray it as a possibility, but if there isn’t any indication of such licentiousness, then to suggest there was is more than unfair, it is libelous.

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