25 Aug

Great Expectations (1998)

“I’m not going to tell the story the way it happened. I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.”

– Finn

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At this point, you should be familiar with Birthday Super Munch; this is, after all, perhaps the eighth time we have watched a movie in honor of our birthdays that we either had a deep affection for growing up or just consider it to be one of our favorites.

This time it is for my (Ben’s) birthday, and we are watching none other than the 1998 version of Great Expectations. Two occurrences of something doesn’t necessarily make that a trend, but after watching this and Beginners for my Birthday Super Munch last year, perhaps I have a fond yearning for a well-crafted love story, despite hardly watching that style of film with regularity. Great Expectations, while on the surface relatively similar, introduces a world of its own which, to a lost teenager, offered just enough depth and intrigue to sweep me away in the scenes and journeys it created. It had been a long time since my last viewing experience and I needed to know if Great Expectations was worth the fond memories I attach to it. Was it just an empty canvas which I could paint my own goals and aspirations, or was it a masterpiece with a depth of color and nuance to be admired? We will see.

The Food

Before tempting you with the delicious menu we created, you need to know one thing about this film. This film has perhaps one of the most thorough applications of a color palette that I think I have ever seen. There is a dedication to the color green that is even humorous at times because it is literally everywhere. Great Expectations is drenched in a verdant, mossy green, whose reach is omnipresent and no object in a scene can escape from it. Our menu is an homage to the great green hues of Great Expectations.

As a starting dish, you want something that makes a statement and is comfortable enough to set the eater at ease. Blistered green beans with garlic and miso were perfect for this, with the right bit of tartness from some lime, but balanced out by a subtle sweetness from agave syrup. It also has the added benefit of being green.

For our entree, we wanted a different style green than what was presented for the appetizer, so we went with seared rainbow trout with spring pea sauce. The green portion came from the truffled spring pea sauce, masking a plethora of ingredients below. Beneath the sauce, there is a base layer of potatoes upon which sits the rainbow trout. The trout was cooked using sous vide, seared quickly on each side, then topped with mushrooms and shallots. This is a tasty and complex meal that is sure to satisfy any green-colored food cravings you might have.

For dessert, we wanted a classy way to finish the meal and settled with white-chocolate-dipped green tea butter cookies, which contain matcha powder for the ever-important green color scheme. These cookies had a subtle green tea flavor and just the right amount of sharp sweetness through the white chocolate. A tasty and fancy way to finish.

The Drink

We made tarragon gin and tonics for the drink, which had to be green, of course. We imagine this is a drink Ms. Nora Digger Dinsmoor, who may or may not be a fairy, would drink daily, being that part of her aesthetic is to have a glass in her hand at all times. This was a wonderful and refreshing drink, with the tarragon offering a nice herbaceous flavor.

The Rules

🌱  Drink whenever anyone drinks from a fountain (and kiss your drink afterward)

🌿  Drink whenever Finn draws (dangerous!)

🌵  Drink whenever anyone swears

The Movie

If you have read the Charles Dickens novel of the same name, well, you can forget everything you think you know going in because it won’t help you with this film experience. The two share a name and the mere frame of a story, but the film wastes no time in differentiating itself from the source material. What you do have is a story of the life of the main character, Finn, told at varying points in his life, from his relatively destitute origins in a swampy Florida town, to his emergence as a fine artist known around the world. The journey has you meet a cast of characters that are each eccentric and flawed in their own ways.

The film caustically introduces you to an escaped prisoner, played by Robert De Niro, and Finn plays a small role in aiding his escape. Finn plays the role of aide well: later, he agrees to earn some money for his family by spending time with Ms. Nora Digger Dinsmore. Nora wanted the company and for her daughter, Stella, to get some socialization as she grew up. This arrangement begins the central love story, which is at times unrequited and at times confusing. We see Stella and Finn grow into adults, at which point Stella, with the influence of a wealthy heritage, travels the world and digests the culture presented to her. Finn, on the other hand, follows in his “uncle’s” footsteps until one day a lawyer appears on his doorstep offering him an art show of his own in New York paid for by a mysterious benefactor. From there, the movie is propelled forward by the “are they,” or “aren’t they” of Stella and Finn’s love, something that you the viewer are never fully on board with despite it happening in front of you.

Thinking back on it, the film has about two settings in which it runs on: slow and languid, allowing you to take in everything that is going on, and swift, in which everything moves at a breakneck speed and barely give you time to breathe or take stock of what is going on around you. This pace could be good if it wasn’t for the fact that they are used at inopportune times: right when a major plot point is revealed, the film speeds things along, barely giving you time to even recognize what just happened. When the scene unfolding in front of you really has no importance to anything that interests you, the film moves painfully slow. It is a film of a lot of different sensations, moments, and ideas and never quite finds its way but it just all happens quickly enough that you don’t mind.

Great Expectations, when all is said and done, is a good film constrained by inexperience and the waterfall of ideas that can come with that. It likes to give meaning to moments and ideas that distract from the story and quality of the film of the whole. It is what depth is perceived to be without understanding what depth of narrative and story truly are. It wants to be more than it is, and it is both a failure and yet commendable for that fact.

Want more? Listen to us talk about Great Expectations on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.

The Reviews

Andre: Failed to meet expectations. Great Expectations has not stuck with me in any meaningful way. Writing this review, a week later, I struggle to remember what happened in the movie. I remember the love story, but I don’t understand how we spent two hours on it. It felt like it lacked any special, memorable moments, and I doubt this movie will stick with me as long as it has stuck with Ben.

Leanna: Don’t color me green with envy for… Never mind. This joke isn’t going to work. And neither did this film. And yet, I still kind of liked it? Maybe it’s because it hit the right chords of an unrequited love story that I would have loved in high school and early college and that nostalgia was enough for me to still feel some enjoyment while I watched. Yet, I know this is a movie that I shouldn’t watch again. There were just as many times where I was rolling my eyes at the movie as there were times where I was genuinely invested in what would happen next. I can’t say that I would recommend watching Great Expectations, but I can say if your friend insists you watch it because it is his birthday and this is what he wants to do, you may still end up having a good time. 

Ben: 70%. It was quite the experience to go back to this film after so many years to realize that Great Expectations has some merit but that it is also a fair bit of grandstanding that ultimately amounts to nothing. It is the type of film that you don’t want to ponder on too deeply and is best taken on its surface as you are wrapped up in the green hues and the lifestyles of the rich. It is the type of film where being poor is its own aesthetic that is pretty much the extent of the class divide. Sure, they show that those that don’t come from money can’t necessarily interact amongst the art elites New York, but it never moves past anything more than a fleeting idea. And that is largely what a lot of the film is: fleeting ideas that never fully coalesce into a greater whole. It wants to be fine art but it only succeeds on the surface. You can give a house a new paint job but if the foundation of the house is rotting away it will eventually all come down. This sounds surprisingly harsh for a film that I have given 70% and would even say I enjoy, but I also recognize that it was more an empty canvas to paint my own ideas onto than a solid work of cinematic art.