I couldn’t put my figure on what was missing in the newest version of the movie “Emma.” The videography was breathtaking with pastoral views of the English countryside. The rooms in each stately house, the store where they bought fabric and ribbons, and their period clothing were visually stunning. I was gasping over the design elements that were everywhere, from the clever tucks in a dress to the beautiful fire screens that Emma’s father used to keep away cold drafts of air. It’s a beloved Jane Austen story, where the protagonist, who is given every outward advantage learns how to be beautiful inside. She has wealth and beauty but learns painfully how to be an accepting friend and more kind. What was missing for me? There was no heart or depth to it.
The Wall Street Journal’s movie critic, Joel Morgenstern said:
“‘Emma’ Review: Style Sense, Shallow Sensibility”
“What’s missing is nuance (the idea of Mr. Nightly’s performance, like others in the film, is wittier than what’s actually on screen); connective tissue (the story is semicoherent at best, a jumble of characters rushing to and fro); and depth of feeling.”
After my husband left halfway to go to bed, I told him later, “It’s partly what’s wrong with our culture in America right now. The heart and soul are missing, but houses and people are decorated to the nines.” It is all about the exterior when the interior is what matters: it is what stays with us and changes us, and we feel it deeply and are altered forever. Our character, thoughts, feelings and actions matter more than what we look like, what our career is, where we live, or what we drive. The American marketing machine would have us and our children believe differently, but it is the truth.
That very same week we watched Gattaca, the 1997 futuristic movie about making “the best version of yourselves” and genetically enhancing the embryo that would be your child. Jude Law who plays Jerome was physically a perfect specimen, but he chose to walk in front of a car because he got second in a swimming competition. The flawed baby, Ethan Hawk, grew up small and with myopic vision, but with an indomitable will to become an astronaut, despite being told all his life the best he could do was clean the building the space station was housed in. The movie captures his decision to let his life not be determined by his physical limitations. It’s his journey to be an astronaut where his very genetics are stacked against him.
How can we help our children develop this inner character, self-reliance, and spiritual fortitude? How can they have the will to launch and make something of themselves, when they are surrounded by bad examples everywhere of doing what is easy, cheating at school, and that religion is for fools? The Washington Post said that teens are on social media 7 hours and 22 minutes a day, comparing each other’s lives and looking at the outside picture perfect life that looks effortless, but in fact is being carefully curated with many people helping. What a strange stew for them to be mired in, and we have helped create it.
We can teach them how rich life is when we choose the attributes of the Savior–kindness, courage, love, and persistence, to name a few. And we help them find examples of it everywhere–in movies, books, the scriptures, experiences we have and people we know–to reinforce this idea of an elevated life. Our job is to help them find these character gems daily and show them how wonderful the world is.
I watched two children’s movie this week because my 5 year old granddaughter is staying with us. I disliked Trolls World Tour from the start. Only one reviewer felt the way I did on Rotten Tomatoes:
“There’s just no heart, soul, or true purpose in this film; something generic and robotic about every aspect of its existence.”
I suggested we watched Babe, the story of a pig that learns his true fate as bacon, and vows to become more useful and becomes a pig dog to herd sheep. Heart and soul was there in spades. It won an Academy Award in 1996 for Best Effects, Visual Effects and nominated for six others.
One of my favorite quotes from Babe was the first line,
“This is a tale about an unprejudiced heart, and how it changed our valley forever.”
Never has the family been besieged by so much junk. Let’s wade through it, talk to our children about why its garbage, limit the bad stuff and feast on the nourishing, thoughtful bounty that is ours for the watching.