Vanity Fair

Kind of Recommended. As far as period pieces of the 19th century go, this one is visually rich, with great costumes, and environments, good dialogue and subtext as well as complicated relationships. I even thought Reese Witherspoon as the lead actually pulled it off. I had doubts about Miss Legally Blonde, but she delivered. I also liked the heart of the story which dealt with the difficulties of women in Victorian society. The disadvantage they were at in desperately needing to find a husband, and one who had status and wealth. The problem I had with this movie is that the story was very weak and thus I could not follow it as well because there were too many important characters that watered down the main character’s story. It was supposed to be about Reese as a poor orphan desiring to climb her way up into high society and the price she pays. The lie of aristocracy is that significance of life is found in family birth rather than personal achievement or character. In the story, the merchant, played by Jim Broadbent, is just as rich as the nobles, because of his own economic efforts, yet he is portrayed as a miserly uncouth hardhead without class. Well, she mentions her goal of social climbing in the beginning, but then the middle of the story becomes this hodge podge of her life that does not support this goal. She marries a handsome soldier who is lower caste, which doesn’t match her goal. And we get caught up in everyone else’s story around her. The real story that was most interesting and relevant to the original premise was that last third of the movie when a rich man played brilliantly by Gabriel Byrne, draws her into high society and pays her way, with a price attached of course. That was a great story. Problem is, it didn’t start until the last third of the movie, so the story was not strong. I particularly enjoyed how the storyteller tried to show how this thirst for aristocratic company was an empty fraud. As Byrne says, “the women who jealously guard the doors to society so that you will not discover there is nothing behind them.” Byrne plays a Victorian Mephistopheles, who openly explains to Reese how empty it is, yet is there to fulfill her passionate drive as she ignores the truth in her headlong pursuit. This is all a very poignant depiction of temptation and the vanity of the world, or as the title suggests from John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, Vanity Fair. I also thought the ending was rather abrupt. Like they spent too much time developing too many characters and then had to wrap it up quickly at the end with a happy ending so we wouldn’t be so unsatisfied. Problem is, it was unsatisfying. Reese loses her husband because she is caught in an apparent indiscretion (though not real), and then he goes off and dies of disease in the army. Because of this, she ends up as a card dealer in a gambling casino. The moral problem with this story as I see it is that the heroine in the end winds up with her original suitor in the movie, an obese traveling man whom she uses to free herself from her casino whoredom. This Machiavellian morality is no better than the aristocratic mindset in the rest of the film that society requires proper pedigree or else one should be punished for their social climbing. As if this ending is a “happy ending.” So it is a pragmatic nihilistic interpretation of social status and worth. Righteousness is jettisoned in favor of survival and personal desires.

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