FOUR STARS – Uplifting, Artistic
Does following your heart or using your head lead to the better life? Though people may answer that question in differing ways, the answer beautifully dramatized in “Sense and Sensibility” is both. With an excellent cast, an amazing script, and exquisite cinematography, this most recent remake of Jane Austen’s novel is a work of art.
Set within the 1700’s of Devonshire and London, the story revolves around the lives of two sisters whose approaches to life differ. The older, Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson), is a genteel young woman whose emotions are controlled by her reason. The other, Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet), is a spirited young woman whose emotions are given their full expression.
Played out against the sexist oppression of an English culture which does not allow women to inherit or practice a profession, we walk with Elinor and Marianne through their season of coming of age. Their problems and joys are many. Having a father who passes away, their half-brother inherits the vast wealth of the estate and, through the manipulative greed of his wife, leaves his half sisters and step-mother virtually destitute.
This vulnerability to the whims of men and the often behind-the-scenes manipulations of their wives demonstrates the evil of sexism. Sexism is destructive first in its false preference of men. Men raised in such a world learn neither the spiritual discipline of humility, nor the spiritual ministry of servanthood. Sexism is also destructive in the manipulations to which women then resort. Powerless to live a life of their own choosing, the woman often resorts to manipulating the man to provide the life she desires. Throughout the film, these sexist patterns are played out with both comical and diabolical results.
However, the major theme of the film involves the relationships of the sisters with men.
Elinor is the first to fall in love. Her heart is stolen by a disarmingly caring Edward Ferris (Hugh Grant). A man of deep conviction and spiritual sensitivity, Edward is painfully proper. Due in part to such reserve, but equally due to the controlled emotions of Elinor, their feelings for one another are suppressed.
This portrays the first part of the theme. Is it better to use your head and be sensible about love, or let your heart lead? When it is discovered that Edward had once promised himself to a young woman in marriage, Elinor controls both her broken heart and her words of friendship in letting Edward go. Marianne, on the other hand, is swept off her feet by the dashing, romantic John Willoughby. Responding openly and with a vulnerably which leaves Elinor uncomfortable, Marianne clearly communicates her attraction and love for him. Her fantasy is complete when he responds with equal passion. When he abruptly abandons Marianne for another wealthy woman, the heartbreak and virtually life-threatening pain of Marianne shows the difficulty of following the heart.
But if following the heart can lead to heartbreak, and using the head can lead to loneliness, then what does bring us to joy? The answer is found in an appreciation for both the heart and the head. Through some amusing and tearful moments, we walk with Elinor as she learns to express her heart, and we walk with Marianne as she begins to appreciate more than just emotions.
The ultimate symbol of such a maturation is seen as Marianne come to love a rather reserved, yet deeply caring and honorable man, Colonel Christopher Brandon (Allan Rickman). Having faithfully cared for Marianne during the ups and downs of her emotional journey, Colonel Brandon is a man who has learned from the pain of life that emotion and mind must come together if we are to find the solutions and the joy we seek. For Elinor we witness her growth as she openly and passionately proclaims her love for Edward expressing her heart.
Artfully portraying the spiritual union of heart and mind, “Sense and Sensibility,” is a vision satisfying our senses and a theme engaging our minds.