‘Little Women’ leaves room for choice

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Emily Fournier

Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film adaptation of “Little Women” is currently up for six Oscar nominations, including “Best Actress,” “Best Supporting Actress” and the all-important “Best Picture.”

While the film is adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s best selling 1868 novel of the same name, it uses creative choices to further demonstrate the book’s original stance on the lack of female presence in “men’s” spheres, such as the literary world.                                                         

The film, as well as the novel, follows the March sisters as they grow up under their mother’s guidance, portrayed by Laura Dern, while their father fights in the civil war for much of the plot. However, Gerwig plays with timelines by beginning the film in the middle of the story. 

The first scene shows the main character and aspiring author, Jo March, played by Saoirse Ronan, trying to sell a short story to a prominent New York editor.

We see her squirming under the editor’s intense scrutiny of a female author and his need to heavily edit her work, before buying it. This opening scene does not just manipulate Alcott’s original plotline, but prepares the audience for themes of female oppression that runs rampant through the rest of the film. 

From this moment forward, Gerwig goes back and forth between the March girls’ adult lives, as seen in the first scene, and their childhood and teenage years. 

“Pu[t] Alcott’s sunnier and sadder sides in conversation with each other”  David Sims writes in the Atlantic about the film’s timeline jumping.                                                                                          

Their childhood is marked by brighter lighting, signifying the fresh possibilities that await them. Juxtaposed to this innocent time of their lives, their adult years are presented in grey and blue lighting, as each girl is exposed to the realities of adulthood. Relationships, or lack thereof, become an important part of their older lives. But not in the way audiences would think. 

The film continuously shows that during this time period, marriage was important for women to have any standing in society. Many of the characters lament this fact, including each of the March sisters.

Gerwig allows each of the sisters to go on their own journey of marriage and relationships by giving them the freedom of choice. As society is pushing on them to follow patriarchal standards, each sister makes decisions because they want to, not because they were told to do so. 

 For instance, Jo, always the rule breaker, chooses to forgo marriage and write a novel about her family, even at moments where marriage seems to be the easier option. And oldest sister Meg, played by Emma Watson, while she goes the traditional route as a wife and mother, chooses to marry someone of a lower class.    

The ambiguous ending of the film also gives audiences the choice of how they think Jo’s story ends. Alcott’s novel shows Jo giving in to defeat and marrying a professor. However, the film allows the audience to decide whether they want this to be her final moment or not, and depicts her in an alternate scenario. 

The film is being praised for Gerwig’s changes to the original plot, especially the ending. 

“The very intricacy of the mosaic-like structure is a declaration from the outset that there’s nothing simple or inevitable about the paths and details of these women’s lives,” Richard Brody said in an article for the New Yorker

Some Florida Southern students were expecting to relive a classic favorite, while others were unsure of what “Little Women” had in store. 

“As a literature major, I think it was well done.” junior Lilly Langdon said about the film. “I think they casted Jo well, and I think Amy and her represented the literary characters well.” 

“I knew it would be a timepiece comprised of a female ensemble cast and that’s pretty much it.”  senior Kimberlee Knight said. “The movie has received so much attention that I went in expecting an amazing film and I did not leave disappointed.” 

It is through Gerwig’s own creative choices that audiences are shown women who fight against their lack of free will and make choices for the betterment of their happiness. We should all come away from the film believing in Jo March’s indignant belief that women have minds and talent. 

“Little Women” is playing in theaters everywhere.

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