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09 May 2006

Jude (1996)

Christopher Eccleston (Jude), Kate Winslet (Sue), Liam Cunningham (Phillotson), Rachel Griffiths (Arabella)

Directed by Michael Winterbottom (Code 46)

Plot: Jude, a stonemason with aspirations to attend university, steadfastly pursues his cousin, Sue, in this adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel. Their love is difficult, however, because Jude remains bound to a woman who tricked him into marriage, and Sue cousin marries another man in an attempt to deny her true feelings. Living together out of wedlock, the two are rejected by townspeople, leaving them to struggle in abject poverty as they endure countless tragedies.

You know me.

I would hope you understand, after reading any small number of my reviews, that I am wretchedly subject to the manipulative powers of artistic works where the injury or threat of injury against children is portrayed. Case in point: the opening London bombing scene from Narnia. Did I witness kids being blown to bits? No, I simply imagined how terrifying it must have been for those (historic and fictional) little ones - hiding in a make-shift shelter and praying that their daddy will come home from the front - and I was a tearful blob. A pathetic mess, my emotions.

So what does it say about this film when the punch-in-the-gut triple child death scene left me completely devoid of tears? Not even a sniffle! Have I suddenly grown into a heartless, unfeeling bitch? Um... not to my knowledge. Potty training Ilsa has been trying, but I do not believe she has rendered me totally unsympathetic before the images of stiff, blue-faced children.

The other explanation is that this manipulative, slow, tedious film was so devoid of true sentiment that, by the time the big moment arrived, I simply cared not a bit for the fates of these characters. By Jove! That's the answer.

Nope, not a tear. I'm still stunned, actually.

Christopher Eccleston plodded along, but Jude's pride - when he insisted on returning to Christminster to live near the university that never admitted him, knowing his family would be subject to scorn and poverty because people there knew that he and Sue were unwed - is unpardonable. Kate Winslet was predictably feisty and intellectual, but I could not sympathize with her character, Sue. Ok, fine - you feel like being a radical in the face of conventional beliefs, but you do not shun convention at the expense of your children's welfare.

Does anyone else recall the sage words of Mike + the Mechanics? "Swear allegiance to the flag, whatever flag they offer. Never hint at what you really feel." Duh! When a woman offers you a place to live and she proves nosy enough to ask if you are married to the man with whom you have two children, you answer, "Yes, ma'am." Feed the babies, keep a roof over their heads, and be unconventional on your own time. Their safety comes first. The deaths of their children were not God's punishment, as Sue illogically reasoned, but the punishment of a grand cosmos ticked off at their wanton stupidity.

Winterbottom's style was too obvious. Mozart music for places of learning. Trains to imply the relentless progress of destiny. The only overtly rainy day was when they were destitute and looking for a place to live. The only overtly sunny day was when Sue and Jude were happily, carelessly in love. Dead, strangled animals foreshadowed dead, strangled children. And then there was the pacing: everything could have been portrayed in 90 minutes, leaving time for Winterbottom to finish the story, but as it was, a goodly portion of the novel's conclusion was MIA.

Still, who cares? Hardy was just playing God, attempting to make life progressively worse for people whose existences could not become more pathetic. Wikipedia called it "rigged doom," a wonderful phrase. Abandon all hope, ye characters who tread within Hardy's novels. If you get out alive, you will not be happy about it.

And for those of you who are interested in such details, both Rachel Griffiths and Kate Winslet get quite naked, but it was an independent costume novel adaptation... so that makes it alright?

Anonymous Karen said...

Sorry to tell you, sweetie, but the book's just as dismal and pointless.


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