Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Jurassic Park: The Movie

Photo: Universal Pictures

(Attention! Spoiler Alert!)

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 science fiction thriller, Jurassic Park, tells a linear story using continuity editing. The movie explores the ethics of scientific manipulation of nature and introduces the concept of chaos theory. The editing, done by Michael Kahn, is seamless and flawless. There are no superfluous scenes. Each scene is designed to support the story and the theme of the movie. The pacing of the movie keeps the tension building to the climax. The editor relays the story “clearly, efficiently, and coherently” (Barsam and Monahan), leaving no doubt or confusion in the mind of the viewer. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, the camera moves smoothly back and forth between situations and scenes (parallel editing), just like a book. The opening music, written by John Williams, is ominous and primitive, implying that the viewer is entering untamed territory.

The opening scene (the master scene) shows the expert hunter standing grimly by with his gun as workers unload a metal crate. This is on the Isla Nubar, 120 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. An accident occurs, and a worker is killed when the creature inside the crate is released and grabs the worker’s leg. The viewer never sees the creature. Its presence is inferred by the creature’s movements and vocalizations, the intense and horrified expressions on the people’s faces, and the scene where the injured worker is pulled from the grip of the expert hunter. The viewer understands that something predatory and dangerous was in that crate.

A “blood-sucking” lawyer (reflecting blood-sucking mosquitoes), arrives at the amber mine at Manos de Dios (hands of God) in the Dominican Republic. There is a lawsuit now against the project. A scientist (a “digger”) views a piece of amber that was just found, containing a mosquito. From his facial expression, the viewer understands that this is a rare and valuable find.

In the Badlands near Snakewater, Montana, Drs. Allen Grant and Ellie Sadler are working hard and painstakingly on a dinosaur dig. Dr. Grant is skeptical of new technology. He dislikes kids. Dr. Sadler is more flexible and is trying hard to convince him to have children with her. The scene with the fat kid is hilarious. The camera perfectly captures the changed expressions on his face. Dr. Grant shows that he has a sense of humor.

After John Hammond, the wealthy entrepreneur, arrives and convinces the pair to go to Costa Rica with him to view his “biological preserve,” the scene cuts to San Jose, Costa Rica. We see a sweating fat man (Wayne Knight of Seinfeld fame) at a café, meeting with a suspicious-acting man. It is clear that something criminal is going on. The man offers the fat man a lot of money in exchange for some “viable embryos.” The viewer does not yet know how this scene is related to the other scenes, but his imagination is captured, and he wants to know what’s going to happen next. The director is slowly laying the groundwork for the plot of the story.

In the helicopter, Dr. Grant (a paleontologist) and Dr. Sadler (a paleontological botanist) meet Dr. Ian Malcom, a theoretical mathematician who calls himself a “chaotician.” John Hammond is not impressed with his “rock star” personality. The other doctors have not heard of chaos theory. Malcolm flirts relentlessly with Dr. Sadler.

When the helicopter reaches the island, the camera reveals a lush, tropical paradise. The music becomes uplifting and upbeat, inspiring feelings of expectation and hope. There is a promise of adventure.

As the travelers are transported in a Jeep to the main center of the island, they witness huge electrical fences equipped with 10,000 volts, moats, and large concrete walls, which are meant for the “stability of the island.” If it’s just a “biological preserve,” why do they need all of this heavy-duty protection?

The Jeep stops at a truly beautiful and peaceful pastoral scene. The camera dollies in for a close-up of Dr. Grant’s facial expression. He reaches over and grabs Dr. Sadler’s head and turns it. Both of their faces show overwhelming awe, surprise, and excitement. They are looking at a live brachiosaurus! Dr. Malcolm looks awed but concerned. The lawyer gleefully says, “We’re going to make a fortune with this place!”

The camera shows a long shot of a lake with herds of brachiosaurs and other creatures. Dr. Grant is confirmed in his theory that these creatures roamed around in herds. The viewer is also overwhelmed with awe and admiration. There is no doubt that this is a splendid park that everyone will want to visit!

At the visitor center, the doctors watch a video presentation about the “miracle of cloning.” The viewer needs this information to understand the plot and the theme of the movie. Scientists in the film extracted “Dino DNA” from mosquitoes trapped in amber, but the DNA is incomplete and filled in with DNA from frogs. (The DNA, therefore, is corrupted, or mutated.)

Throughout this segment, the doctors are so excited, they break all the rules, and John Hammond cannot control them (a foreshadowing of things to come.) Overhead, we hear the announcement that the boat for the mainland will leave soon. At the same time, the doctors are witnessing a dinosaur hatching from its shell (the miracle of life.) These dinosaurs are impure, altered, corrupted, and laboratory bred. While the lab scientist (B.D. Wong) seems completely unconcerned, Dr. Malcolm is calculating in his head all the predictability/unpredictability ratios. The lab scientist reveals that all the animals are female and cannot breed because the chromosomes have been muted (implying perfection and control.) Dr. Malcolm refutes that with an impassioned speech about the history of evolution, the power of life, and the inability to contain it: “Life finds a way.” When Dr. Grant discovers that they bred velociraptors, a close-up of his face shows his mood change from elation to deep concern. Dr. Malcolm’s speech and Dr. Grant’s mood change portend danger and chaos.

The expert hunter confirms their concerns when he says, “They should all be destroyed.” The viewer recognizes him as the man with the gun in the master scene. He explains that these creatures are calculating problem-solvers who are always watching and waiting and testing the fences to get out (a foreshadowing of the future.) The hunter is a realist who has seen these creatures in action.

At lunch, John Hammond goes on and on about the significance and legacy of his theme park, and the lawyer goes on and on about the lucrative investment. Dr. Malcolm is appalled and points out their “lack of humility before nature.” He calls them careless exploiters who did not earn the right to use this technology. As a result, they have no understanding of what they have created and take no responsibility for the results. The theme of the movie is summed up nicely here when he says that the handsomely-paid Jurassic Park scientists were so caught up in “whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think whether or not they should.” And Dr. Grant and Dr. Sadler back him up about the unpredictability of the result (foreshadowing what’s about to happen.)

The chaos elements begin to reveal themselves: the grandchildren arrive, who are knowledgeable city kids but vulnerable in this environment; a tropical storm is imminent; and Dennis, the disloyal fat man, hacks into the computer system in order to implement his nefarious plan.

When the basic tour begins, Dr. Malcolm remarks that the huge gates to the park remind him of King Kong. Richard Kylie narrates information about dilophosaurus, describing it as a deadly creature that spits poison into the eyes of its victim (foreshadowing later events.)

The scene cuts to a conversation between Dennis and John Hammond. Dennis has financial problems, which is why he is willing to sell dinosaur embryos for money, and John Hammond responds that people should pay for their mistakes (foreshadowing future events.) When his plan is in place, Dennis makes a fumbled explanation of going to the vending machines, steals the embryos, and exits the building.

On the tour, the scientists have not seen any dinosaurs except the tame and sick ones. There is an illusion of order and peace. When the storm hits, however, the chaos begins. The park systems begin to shut down, including the cars containing the scientists, the lawyer, and the children.

The best segments in the movie, in my opinion, are the scenes involving the T. Rex and the car. The editing is seamless and flawless. There is no indication anywhere that the T. Rex is not real. The acting is superb, revealing the absolute terror and horror felt by the children. The children come face-to-face with the creature, as indicated by this photo (T. Rex point of view):

As the T. Rex terrorizes the group, every character is suddenly confronted with his own mortality and feelings of powerlessness. There are several shots where the T. Rex and a character come face-to-face and even meet each other at eye level (the eyeline match cut.)

The cowardly lawyer leaves the children alone and gets his comeuppance in a dramatic scene that reveals how powerless humans are compared to these creatures.

The viewer cannot help feeling glad that the lawyer got his just reward because he just wanted to exploit these creatures for profit. The editing here is a marvel of technology because it looks absolutely real, with no obvious separation between the physical scenery and the artificial creature.

When Dennis leaves the park and gets stuck in the mud, he loses his glasses and the shaving cream canister containing the embryos. When he meets the dilophosaurus, he treats it like a dog, calling it stupid, asking it to fetch, and remarking, “No wonder you’re extinct.” He has no respect for the power and danger that have been unleashed. The creature meets him face-to-face in the car, after outwitting him, and kills him. Dennis gets his just reward, and the embryos are lost forever in the mud.

As the characters deal with varying life-threatening situations, Dr. Grant protects and rescues the children, thereby learning that kids are not so bad after all. The characters learn that everybody is necessary in a survival situation, no matter their age or gender. John Hammond realizes that human life is more important than leaving behind a fantastical legacy for the world. Dr. Malcolm is proven right. And the hunter learns that weapons are not enough against a calculating predatory creature that was able to outwit him.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 22, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Spielberg, Steven, Dir. Jurassic Park. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard

       Attenborough. Universal, 1993.

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Marilyn Monroe in “Niagara”

** Spoiler Alert **

The 1953 film Niagara, directed by Henry Hathaway, stars Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, and Jean Peters. The traditional honeymoon site, Niagara Falls, provides the backdrop for murder.

The music accompanying the opening titles is dark, foreboding, and powerful. The first scene of the movie is a wide camera shot that captures the powerful and majestic Niagara Falls, sporting a rainbow (a symbol of hope). The camera shifts to the right, revealing Joseph Cotton walking along the bank of the river. Compared to the falls, he looks small and impotent. He seems unhappy, lost, and alienated. Indeed, he delivers a monologue to the falls, extolling their strength and power, and decrying his own weakness and failure. It’s a strange scene that gives the viewer the impression that his character is mentally unstable and may be contemplating suicide.

This is an example of how the setting, music, character, camera angles, contrasts, and symbols act together to create impressions in the mind of the viewer. Indeed, Niagara is almost Hitchcock-like in its overall design and presentation.

The viewer soon realizes through her actions and body language that Cotten’s wife, Marilyn Monroe, does not love him. She, too, is unhappy. She deliberately does things to rile him up and explode into small episodes of violence. She implies to another honeymooning couple that her husband is mentally unstable and capable of violence and self-harm. She pretends to worry about him whenever he has gone somewhere alone. But this is all a ruse, because she has a lover, and the lover is planning to kill him.

In the colorized version, Marilyn Monroe stands out from the crowd by wearing stylish, colorful clothing. She carries herself as if she is looking for a good time. She is described by her husband as a bar tramp. Although he loves her, he blames her for the loss of everything he ever had. He strongly suspects she has a lover. In fact, he sees her as out-of-control—just like Niagara Falls. But he is too weak and impotent to leave her.

It is hard for the viewer to feel sympathy for either of these characters. Marilyn Monroe is too scheming and conniving. Joseph Cotten is too weak and unstable.

When Joseph Cotten disappears and a body is found in the river, it looks like the two adulterous lovers got away with murder. When the detective takes Marilyn Monroe to the morgue building to identify the corpse, they walk through a dark and forbidding corridor before they come to the body, lying on a gurney in a cold, sterile room. When the detective turns on the light above the body, the truth is revealed. Marilyn Monroe cries out, faints, and ends up in the hospital. The viewer believes the enormity of her crime has struck home. The viewer soon finds out, however, that her husband is still alive and it is the lover who is dead.

In a remarkable and dramatic scene, Joseph Cotten confronts his wife in a bell tower. This bell tower is a solid building that plays music by request. It represents the strength and solidity of marriage. But the bells are silent now. The room is shadowy and filled with contrasts. The camera looks down from between the bells, making the characters look small and insignificant. The scene tightens as Joseph Cotten struggles with his wife and murders her. He leaves her lying on the black-and-white parquet floor and runs off. The camera lingers on the body for a few seconds, then cuts away, showing Joseph Cotten trying to get out of the locked building. He finally comes back to the body and picks up his wife’s lipstick, a symbolic act that he still loves her.

The police also know that Joseph Cotten is still alive and murdered his wife. He steals a boat, kidnapping Jean Peters. The boat falters and begins drifting toward the falls. Waves wash over the boat, throwing Peters and Cotten around. No matter how hard they try, they are powerless against the waves. The acting here is so realistic, it feels like it is actually happening.

Joseph Cotten tries to sink the boat. He allows Jean Peters to climb onto a wet rock in the middle of the river. She struggles and uses all of her strength to climb onto the slippery rock. The camera cuts back to the boat then back to Jean Peters. She watches, horrified, as the boat goes over the falls. The camera uses a wide shot to show the boat falling down Niagara Falls. Compared to the falls, it looks like a wooden toy.

A helicopter appears to rescue Peters. The camera juxtaposes between Jean Peters and the helicopter. The scenes become shorter and the juxtaposition quicker. She struggles to get into the chair that is sent down from the helicopter. Will she make it or fall into the river? She makes it into the chair. She is rescued.

The final scene of the movie is a wide shot of Niagara Falls. Acting as judge, jury, and executioner, justice has been done.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

December 11, 2017

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

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How “Citizen Kane” Challenged the Hollywood Studio System

Charles Foster Kane played by Orson Welles.

Citizen Kane was made in 1941 during the height of the Hollywood studio system.  Orson Welles was a well-known theatrical actor and director by then.  He brought his theatrical vision and independent imagination to Hollywood, but the standardized operations of the studio system did not allow for too much independent creativity.  Studio movies had to reflect the look and feel of each individual studio.  Welles was unable to deliver on this and earned a reputation for being unreliable and difficult.

Even today, Citizen Kane stands out as an unusual movie.  The script was written along the lines of a news story/detective story.  In the beginning, a news reel summarizes the life of a dead media mogul.  But an enterprising journalist wants more.  He wants to understand the real man and embarks on a journey to find out, intrigued by Kane’s last word, “Rosebud.”  This kind of “parallel narrative structure is the first thing most viewers notice” (Lewis 158).

Using this kind of narrative supports Kane’s character as a hardcore newspaperman.  It seems perfectly natural to explore his life through this kind of device. (Welles had also used the news story device very successfully in his radio adaptation of War of the Worlds). 

Charles Foster Kane is a conflicted character in the sense that he longs for his lost childhood (represented by the snow globe), on one hand, and enjoys the authority and power that his wealth affords him, on the other.  He tries to control the events and people around him, to his own detriment.  He is a tragic Shakespearean figure who gains everything—and loses everything.  Welles supports this conflict through the narrative and the composition of his camera scenes.

Throughout the film, Welles carefully stages nearly every scene using depth-of-field choreography and cinematography, reflecting his vision and theatrical experience.  Lewis uses the childhood scene, in which a deep-focus camera shot shows the young Kane outside playing in the snow, as an example.  Inside, he is still framed by the window in the background. His father is stage left, protesting his wife’s action.  Stage right, and looming larger in the scene, Mr. Thatcher (the banker) and Mrs. Kane (the mother) are signing the papers which will sign away young Kane’s childhood forever (Lewis 159).  It’s a brilliant and powerful scene.

Welles was a master at composing black-and-white camera shots using chiaroscuro lighting (deep contrasts of dark and light) (Barsam 180) and German expressionism (Lewis 159).  His sets are often large, exaggerated, and overblown, especially Xanadu.  The inside of the castle reeks of funereal sadness and gloom.  Hoarding priceless artworks and zoo animals cannot lighten the darkness.  Kane’s world is empty, twisted, and dark—like the character himself.

Welles’ camera is not stationary.  He uses the camera to make creative transitions and keep the story going.  When the journalist first meets Susan at the El Rancho, the camera leaves the Thatcher Library and rolls over to the roof of the El Rancho, where it points down through the skylight onto Susan.  The viewer feels like he is eavesdropping on a private conversation.  Despite this intrusion, Welles has met his goals “to simulate a theatrical look (blocking actors . . .) and to create a realist aesthetic (an artistic conception . . .) through composition in depth” (Lewis 160).

Welles uses low-angle shots to make characters appear larger.  Reflections in glass and mirrors include more characters into the scene and reveal their reactions.  He uses a brilliant montage of scenes in the beginning of the movie which transition into one another, creating new scenes.  Welles also included a combination of both live and dubbed sounds into Citizen Kane, drawing on his radio experience (Lewis 161).

 Citizen Kane defied the parameters of most studio formula movies because it is a piece of art.  It has become a classic film that has influenced generations of independent filmmakers.  And it is a true reflection of the master himself— Orson Welles.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

Welles, Orson, Dir. Citizen Kane. Perf. Orson Welles. Warner Bros., 1941.

(The character of Charles Foster Kane was based on newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.)

Dawn Pisturino

December 20, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: The Marriage Game

Photo from the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

Throughout Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet schemes to marry off her five daughters. Driven by anxiety over an uncertain economic future, she struggles to overcome the entailment of her husband’s property, his indolence, and her own feelings of powerlessness, in order to secure their futures.

Marriage, in Austen’s time, was a social and economic necessity, particularly for women. Any single man of means who appeared on the scene became an instant target for cultivation and courtship. Mrs. Bennet expresses this clearly in Chapter One: “A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls.”

Mrs. Bennet is focused solely on the economic advantages of such a marriage. She wastes no time considering the disadvantages. She hopes that Mr. Bingley, the new gentleman in the neighborhood, will fall in love with one of her daughters. regardless of how her daughters feel about it. And she pushes her daughters into competition with all of the other available daughters in the neighborhood. This is her duty as a wife and mother. Even Mr. Bennet, despite his cynicism, recognizes this: “But if we do not venture, somebody else will . . .” He does his duty and makes the necessary introductions to open up opportunities for his daughters to marry well.

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were subject to the same social and economic pressures when they were young. The question is — did they both marry well? Austen makes it clear throughout the novel that the marriage is not a happy one. Each partner seems disillusioned by the other. Mrs. Bennet accuses her husband of taking pleasure in “vexing” her. Mr. Bennet is aware that twenty-three years of marriage have not helped his wife to “understand his character.” Each partner finds comfort in his or her own interests. Mrs. Bennet distracts herself with matchmaking, local gossip and news, and social duties. Mr. Bennet escapes into his library. They keep up appearances, for the sake of their standing in the neighborhood, but find no pleasure in each other.

Before his death, Mrs. Bennet’s father was an attorney. Her sister married her father’s office clerk, and he eventually took over the practice. Her brother moved to London and became a successful tradesman. Mrs. Bennet improved her economic and social standing by marrying her husband.

As a member of the lower landed gentry, Mr. Bennet has a small estate and an income of two thousand pounds a year. His assets would have been considered modest for that time. But his social status makes him one of the leaders of the local community. And that brings upward mobility to Mrs. Bennet and her family. She seeks to do the same thing for her daughters.

The dark side of Mrs. Bennet’s improved status is the entailment of her husband’s estate. Once her husband dies, the entire estate will be inherited by a distant male cousin, Mr. Collins. This puts Mrs. Bennet and her daughters in a precarious situation. Mrs. Bennet inherited four thousand pounds from her father. But this is not enough money to sustain a family and help her daughters’ marriage prospects. She bitterly points this out to Mr. Collins himself: “It is a grievous affair to my poor girls . . . they will be destitute enough.” Since he is more than willing to marry one of the daughters to make things right, Mrs. Bennet is more than willing to accommodate him.

Mr. Collins improved his economic and social status by gaining the patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He wants a wife who will meet with Lady de Bourgh’s approval. He is steered toward Elizabeth by Mrs. Bennet since Jane is expected to marry Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth refuses him, however, and Mrs. Bennet is distraught when her husband sides with his daughter. She continues to hound Lizzy, considering her selfish and foolish: “But I tell you what, Miss Lizzy, if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband at all — and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead — I shall not be able to keep you — and so I warn you.”

To add salt to the wound, Lizzy’s friend, Charlotte Lucas, “accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment.” Right away, Mrs. Bennet blames Lizzy and refuses to forgive her for many months. She has been publicly humiliated by her daughter. The Lucas family will ultimately benefit from her husband’s estate.

Mrs. Bennet bitterly resents her husband for the entailment of his estate, and she does not hesitate to remind him. “I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure that if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it.”

Mr. Bennet, for his part, had expected to have a son, who would nullify the entailment of his estate and provide for his wife and daughters after his death. Although his wife and children will eventually divide five thousand pounds among themselves, he regrets that he was not more proactive about their futures. His five daughters have no property or income to entice possible marriage partners. He convinces himself that his two eldest daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, “must be respected and valued” wherever they go, so their natural qualities will secure for them appropriate husbands. He, therefore, leaves his daughters to the whims of Fate. And by the end of the book — when Darcy has arranged the Fate and fortune of the Bennet family — he is relieved and grateful, saying to Lizzy, “So much the better. It will save me a world of trouble and economy. Had it been your uncle’s doing, I must and would have paid him; but these violent young lovers carry every thing their own way. I shall offer to pay him to-morrow; he will rant and storm about his love for you, and there will be an end of the matter.”

Lizzy’s father is, therefore, vindicated in his belief that his two eldest daughters will secure worthy husbands for themselves based on their own natural qualities. He, himself, was not so wise. “Captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour, which youth and beauty generally give,” he marries a woman whose natural charms, poor manners, and intellectual ignorance quickly lose his interest. He turns his affection and attention to his daughter, Lizzy, who “has something more of quickness than her sisters,” whom he regards as “silly and ignorant” — just like their mother. His disappointment in his wife and three youngest daughters becomes evident through his sarcastic comments, cynical view of life, and lack of motivation to do more for his family.

Mrs. Bennet’s powerlessness and frustration come through loud and clear. She may have achieved her goal, while young, of marrying well, but once married, her charms can no longer keep Mr. Bennet under her control. Throughout the novel, Mrs. Bennet is characterized as “intolerable.” When her schemes do not come to fruition, she feels herself “barbarously used.” She suddenly becomes ill, retires to her room, cries, curses the world, feels sorry for herself, and imagines the worst catastrophes. She takes no responsibility when Lydia disgraces herself and the family. She takes to her bed, expecting the rest of the family to wait on her hand and foot. Mr. Bennet is so disgusted by her self-absorption and self-pity, he threatens to “do the same; I will sit in my library, in my night cap and powdering gown, and give as much trouble as I can — or, perhaps, I may defer it, till Kitty runs away.” Mrs. Bennet is more of a burden than a help to her husband.

In the end, Mrs. Bennet improves her position in life through marriage, while Mr. Bennet suffers from marrying a woman who is clearly beneath him. Mrs. Bennet takes pride in the marriages of her two eldest daughters, even though her vulgar behavior drives the Bingleys away. Mary remains at home to attend to her mother’s needs. And Mr. Bennet, missing his favorite daughter, Elizabeth, escapes frequently to Pemberley to visit her.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray. New York: Norton, 2001.

Dawn Pisturino

November 7, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth vs. Lydia

Photo from the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

The novel Pride and Prejudice is a remarkable portrait of Regency England and society’s obsession with marriage. If a woman did not marry — whether for love or financial security — she was doomed to spinsterhood and poverty. Through the use of contrasting characters, expectations, and situations, author Jane Austen highlights Elizabeth’s desire to marry a man who will make her happy, regardless of wealth, which sharply contrasts the goals and desires of her sister Lydia, and her mother, Mrs. Bennet.

Mrs. Bennet’s chief concern is the entailment of her husband’s estate. Once her husband dies, the whole family “will be destitute enough.” Marrying her daughters off is crucial to the family’s future — and she is not too particular about whom they marry. When Lydia disgraces the family, Mrs. Bennet never scolds her daughter but waxes triumphant that one of her daughters will finally be married.

In spite of her ignorance, silliness, and embarrassing behavior, Mrs. Bennet is fulfilling her perceived duty by desperately pushing to get her daughters married.

Lydia, the youngest daughter, is spoiled, indulged, and never held accountable for her questionable behavior. She is almost the mirror image of her mother in every respect because “she has never been taught to think on serious subjects . . . she has been given up on nothing but amusement and vanity. She has been allowed to dispose of her time in the most idle and frivolous manner, and to adopt any opinions that [come] in her way.”

Even the elopement with Wickham appears frivolous, as she brags to her sister, Kitty: “What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing . . .”

Lydia sees no shame in running off with Wickham. She only cares about her own self-indulgence. Although her family believes that marriage “with such an husband, her misery [is] considered certain,” Lydia cannot envision the consequences of her actions. When she returns to Longbourn after her wedding, the whole family sees that “Lydia [is] Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless.” She immediately demands to replace Jane in the family hierarchy, insisting, “Ah! Jane, I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married woman.” Lydia does not care what kind of man she has married; only that she is married.

Instead of symbolizing the fallen woman, Lydia reflects her mother’s desperation to marry off her daughters at any cost. She is proud of being the first daughter to marry, regardless of the circumstances, saying, “I am sure my sisters must all envy me” — and offers to become the matchmaker for the rest of them. “You may leave one or two of my sisters behind you; and I dare say I shall get husbands for them before the winter is over.” She is oblivious when Elizabeth remarks, “I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.”

Throughout Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth rejects the dishonesty and superficiality of the “marriage game,” while examining “the unhappy defects of her family.” She loses respect for her parents, despite her father’s affection. Their character flaws will make it difficult for Elizabeth and her sisters to marry well. She does not want to marry for the sake of marriage alone. She wants to marry a man who will complement her and make her happy, even if he has little money or social position.

Although intelligent, judgmental, and keenly observant of others, Elizabeth is blind to her own faults. It is not until she rejects Darcy and reads his letter that Elizabeth honestly examines her own behavior and emotions. “I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike of him, without any reason.” She realizes that he is the only man that can make her happy.

But it is Elizabeth’s honesty and sincerity that attracts Darcy to her and makes him fall in love. He is willing to change his own attitudes and behavior to win her over. He is even willing to overlook the flaws in her family, and the objections of his own family, in order to marry her. They both have a chance at happiness because they are honest and willing to change.

In this respect, she is uniquely different from Lydia and her mother, who willingly overlook the dishonesty in their relationships and the flaws in themselves in order to conform to society’s expectations about marriage.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray. New York: Norton, 2001.

Dawn Pisturino

October 18, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Right Reserved.

1 Comment »

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: The Dysfunctional Bennets

Photo from the Houstonia

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet clearly depict the typical unhappily married couple whose loveless marriage was prompted by social expectation and confirmed by an economic social contract. Mr. Bennet is witty and intelligent. He likes to escape into his study to read and ruminate. He prefers his second daughter, Elizabeth, because she is most like him. He recognizes that she “has something more of quickness than her sisters.” Mrs. Bennet, on the other hand, is so frivolous, superficial, inappropriate, and self-absorbed, she seems to come from a lower class than her husband. Mr. Bennet consistently responds to his wife with sarcastic comments and regards his three youngest daughters as silly and ignorant — just like his wife.

Although his property is entailed, Mr. Bennet does not seem very motivated to provide for his daughters. He expects them to follow the precepts of society and marry as well as they can, if possible. He is, therefore, willing to go meet Mr. Bingley in order to pave the way for his daughters’ introduction to their new neighbors. He has full faith that his daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, have the sincerity and moral character to find suitable husbands. He does not seem to have much expectation for his younger daughters. Despite Elizabeth’s warning, he is caught by surprise when Lydia disgraces herself. However, Lydia’s disgrace makes him realize that he has not done enough to secure his daughters’ futures. And he goes to the other extreme and threatens to severely restrict Kitty’s life until she is properly married. Mary seems to be overlooked here, as if her only expectation is to become an old maid.

Mr. Bennet recognizes the ludicrousness of a marriage between Elizabeth and Mr. Collins. He knows that Elizabeth is worthy of so much better — unlike his wife, who feels it is “the business of her life” to get her daughters married off, regardless of the unsuitability of the match. Secretly, Mr. Bennet would like to spare his two older daughters the unhappiness and torture of a loveless marriage.

Exposed to the dysfunctional dynamics of her family, Elizabeth is determined to avoid the same fate as her father. She acknowledges his faults, empathizes with him, and longs to escape her mother and younger sisters and their constant nagging and bickering. She disdains superficiality and shallowness because she experiences it every day with her own mother and younger sisters. She hates being pressured to conform to her mother’s irrational will. She is embarrassed by her mother’s uncontrolled tongue and thoughtless behavior. She is humiliated by the carelessness and impropriety displayed by her younger sisters. She wants to be better than all of them. When she sees the same vanity and artificiality in the upper classes, she is unimpressed.

Elizabeth realizes that her family is a hindrance to her chances of securing a happy marriage. She feels this even more acutely when she begins to fall in love with Darcy. When she visits Pemberley and realizes that Darcy is well-regarded and burdened with many responsibilities, she longs to be a part of his world. She fiercely defends herself when Lady Catherine de Bourgh confronts her. And when she finally gives in and accepts Darcy, her father welcomes the marriage as the best course of action for Elizabeth and her family. Darcy has proven that he is a responsible, morally upright man.

The fairy-tale ending is not unreasonable, however. Both Elizabeth and Darcy complement each other in positive ways that convince the reader that a happy marriage will, indeed, be the end result.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray. New York: Norton, 2001.

Dawn Pisturino

October 3, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet

How Elizabeth Bennet Conformed to her Society’s Standards and How She Did Not

Elizabeth Bennet is a conventional country girl whose life revolves around family and social obligations. She believes local gossip and hearsay, enjoys parties and balls, and socializes with the military officers stationed at the nearby village with her younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia. When her mother schemes to get her older sister, Jane, married to the wealthy Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth participates in the plot. She reads, plays the piano, enjoys nature, and does all the things that country girls do. Elizabeth is different, however, because she “has something more of quickness than her sisters.” Elizabeth likes to observe and analyze the people and situations around her.

As a member of the lower landed gentry, Elizabeth understands the importance of marriage, money, and social position. When Mr. Collins asks Elizabeth to marry him, she defies her mother and social expectations by declining. She cannot bring herself to marry someone who cannot make her happy. When Charlotte Lucas turns around and accepts him, Elizabeth is disgusted by her friend’s mercenary reasons for marrying him. She doesn’t share Charlotte’s view that “happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.”

Elizabeth forms a negative first impression of Mr. Darcy and believes all the bad gossip she hears about him. She always reminds him of his bad manners when she sees him, and he does likewise to her. When Darcy finally reveals his love to her, she becomes indignant, points out his flaws, and rejects him — once again, defying family and social expectations. Even the entailment of her father’s estate cannot sway her.

Mr. Wickham entertains Elizabeth, makes her laugh, and appeals to her sexual attraction to him. He is so charming that, if he had money, Mrs. Bennet would heartily approve of a marriage between them. Elizabeth believes all the negative information Wickham imparts about Mr. Darcy and all the positive hearsay she hears about Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth is finally forced to realize Wickham’s bad character after reading Darcy’s letter. She take s a good, long look at herself and admits that “till this moment, I never knew myself.”

Elizabeth recognizes the large social gap between Jane and Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy and herself. She admits to her sister, Jane, that “we are not rich enough, or grand enough, for them.” She is embarrassed by her family’s bad manners and behavior on more than one occasion. She embarrasses herself when she walks to Netherfield Park and presents herself with a muddy dress and shoes. Miss Bingley describes her behavior as “conceited independence.” She understands Darcy’s objections to her family. But her sole concern is with happiness, not wealth and social position.

When Lady Catherine de Bourgh confronts Elizabeth about an impending engagement to Darcy, she responds, “And if I am that choice, why may not I accept him?” And when Lady Catherine admonishes her to be sensible, she says, “He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.” Clearly, love and happiness are not dependent on wealth and social class to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

As Elizabeth learns more about Mr. Darcy, his honesty, character, and responsibilities, she begins to conform to his expectations for her. Finally, she reveals to her sister, Jane, “that we are to be the happiest couple in the world.” Concerned, Jane tells her to “do anything rather than marry without affection.”

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray. New York: Norton, 2001.

Dawn Pisturino

September 27, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Right Reserved.

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Easy Rider: The Movie

Easy Rider

Easy Rider: The Movie

by

Dawn Pisturino

Any analysis of Dennis Hopper’s 1969 movie, Easy Rider, must be made within the context of the 1960s, or the analysis may become distorted. The 1960s were a turbulent and unique period in American history (this writer was fourteen years old in 1969). Under the influence of the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement, the country was at war with itself. Fear of nuclear holocaust drove much of the “live for today” counterculture rebellion. After all, if humans are going to die anyway, why go to work? Why conform to the established social order? It’s much better to have fun and do what you want while you still have time.

Easy Rider has been described as a modern hippie road trip movie, but more than anything else, it is a biker movie — and hardcore bikers still try to follow the route taken in the movie. There are numerous websites and blogs on the Internet describing this route. Some of the locations used in the movie (such as the cafe) no longer exist. But the Spirit of Route 66 is alive and well, and enough stretches of that famous and infamous road still exist to bring Easy Rider back to life.

Peter Fonda (Wyatt, after Wyatt Earp) conceived Easy Rider as a western (Seitz 2-3; Schneider 1). The characters ride their choppers (metal horses) through the southwest, camp out in Indian ruins, and make occasional references to cowboys and Indians. (Peter Fonda may have been giving a nod to his father, Henry Fonda, who starred in a number of westerns). Wyatt and his cohort, Billy (after Billy the Kid, played by Dennis Hopper), are motorcycle-stuntmen-bikers-turned-drug-dealers who score a big cocaine deal and use their ill-gotten riches to travel across the country to New Orleans. (In a real Hollywood western, they might have been performers in an Old West Show who turned outlaw, struck it rich, and turned into aimless drifters).

The classic Hollywood western celebrates American freedom, expansion, and rugged independence (Lewis 247-248; Barsam and Monahan, 103). But as civilization spreads across the western wilderness, the heroes in these movies become the alienated outsiders. Easy Rider celebrates this freedom and rugged independence and decries the loss of personal freedom and individuality found in an urbanized and commercialized society.

The movie was billed as a story about a man who “went looking for America and couldn’t find it” (Dirks 1). The problem with this obvious hype is that there is no indication in the movie that this is their goal. The characters always confirm that their goal is to get to the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans in order to have a good time. In fact, Billy gets pretty hostile when it looks like his plans will be delayed. The people they meet, and the events they experience along the way, are completely random and unplanned.

The characters complain throughout the movie about the hostile reactions they receive to their long hair and grubby clothes. (In most westerns, the established town folk snub the outlaws, gamblers, drifters, and prostitutes in their towns, to the point of violence). As the movie progresses, the long hair becomes a symbol for people who are different, alienated, and marginalized from mainstream America.

Dennis Hopper is remembered now as one of the auteur directors of the New Hollywood era (Lewis 289). “Made for a mere $375,000 and earning an astonishing $19 million in its initial release in 1969, Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider made clear just how important the youth audience would be to a Hollywood recovery” (Lewis 289). Another $1 million was spent on licensing the music for Donn Cambern’s contemporary rock and pop score (Fisher 3), the first movie to incorporate culturally popular music (Ebert 2003 2; Schneider 2). This established a standard that moviemakers have used ever since.

The movie was born out of the low-budget motorcycle movies that appealed to young people in the 1960s (Ebert 2004 2; Ebert 1969 2). Roger Corman’s 1966 movie, The Wild Angels, also starring Peter Fonda, used some of the same creative devices, such as nondiegetic sound, that were later used in Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969). The LSD-trip cemetery scene in New Orleans, which uses “super-fast edits, jarring sound effects, Catholic prayers, and shots of the Virgin Mary” (Schneider 3), shows a young girl reciting the rosary and parallels the rape scene in The Wild Angels (Roger Corman, 1966), where the audience hears a young girl singing a Christian hymn. By combining elements “of the teen biker picture . . . , the French New Wave . . . , and cinema verite” (Lewis 290), Dennis Hopper brought the nonconformist counterculture onto the big screen while remaining independent of Hollywood interference and conformity.

Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs revealed that Dennis Hopper wanted to use natural lighting as much as possible (Seitz 3), but portable halogen lights were used at night, especially for the campfire scenes (Fisher 2). The campfires and the flicker were simulated, using “a stick with a little flicker effect” (Fisher 2-3). To shoot the  motorcycle travel scenes, an Arri camera, using 50-speed Kodak film, was mounted on a 1968 Chevy Impala (Fisher 2). The Mardi Gras scene was filmed using Bolex 16 mm hand-held cameras, creating a disorienting and psychedelic effect (Fisher 3). The entire movie was filmed in a loose style to convey a “feeling of freedom” (Fisher 4). The shooting was largely improvised, shot according to what felt right to Kovacs at the time (Fisher 2). “Rapid flashback/flash forward transitions” (Seitz 3) are used frequently between sequences. “Long, slow establishing shots transition the environment from nature to city over the course of the movie” (Seale 1). The pacing is uneven, reflecting an improvisational style, and jump cuts create a jarring effect (Dirks 1). Very little make-up is used, there are few meaningful props, and the costumes are natural and realistic, incorporating “traditional patriotic symbols with emblems of loneliness, criminality, and alienation — the American flag, cowboy decorations, long hair, and drugs” (Dirk 1). Much of the dialogue is improvised, especially in the cafe scene (Lewis 290).

“The rough cut of the movie reportedly ran over three hours, and Hopper edited it to a reasonable length by throwing out the story details and keeping the rest” (Ebert 1969 3; Seitz 3). The result is a movie that often seems disjointed and disconnected. After George dies, the excessive editing makes it appear that Wyatt and Billy are completely indifferent to his death. Questions arise, such as: What did they do with the body? Did they just leave the poor guy there? This is why, when watching the movie, the viewer scratches his head and wonders: Who are these guys? What is their backstory? Why are they doing all of this? The beginning of the film, which explains all of this, was cut from the movie. It’s the outtakes which reveal that Wyatt and Billy are motorcycle stuntmen who turn drug dealers and end up in a thrilling confrontation with “helicopters and police chasing Hopper and Fonda over mountains and across the Mexican border” Birnbaum 1). If this sequence had been included in the movie, Wyatt and Billy would be seen as nothing more than common criminals.

As it is, Wyatt and Billy are superficial characters whose lives appear aimless, lacking in any worthwhile goals. Wyatt is the more philosophical and thoughtful of the two. He is open to new people and new experiences. He smokes pot, sits back, and ruminates about life. Billy, on the other hand, is emotionally reactive, sometimes hostile, and “lives for today.” He is unconcerned about learning anything. When Wyatt and Billy are camped out in the Indian ruins with the hitchhiker, Billy shows total disrespect for the Indians who built them and appears indifferent when the hitchhiker reprimands him for it. Billy is anti-social, selfish, and self-absorbed. He smokes pot constantly as if he lives for nothing else. But while Wyatt is the idealistic dreamer, Billy is the down-to-earth realist. When he points out to the hippies at the commune that the soil is not fertile enough to grow anything, he is simply telling the truth as he sees it. When he refutes George’s conspiracy theory about aliens, he is revealing his own lack of imagination. While Wyatt sits quietly by and tells the prostitute at the Tinker Toys brothel that he bought her because of Billy, Billy drinks and carries on like a man coming out of the desert after 40 days. Wyatt examines the artwork and philosophical quotes on the walls, focusing on one quote in particular: “Death only closes a man’s reputation and determines it as good or bad” (Joseph Addison). Billy could care less. He doesn’t seem to believe in anything at all.

Here is where Wyatt has the flash forward vision of a fire by the side of the road. He seems more subdued after this, as if carrying the burden of his whole life on his shoulders. The LSD trip in the cemetery produces a profound religious experience that nobody wants. When Wyatt announces to Billy that “we blew it,” Billy’s response is that money buys freedom, and that’s what it’s all about. He cannot understand what Wyatt is talking about.

Hopper uses a lot of contrasts and juxtapositions to instill meaning into the movie. While the rancher has a solid, stable (although poor) life, the hippies at the commune seem like unstable, flighty dreamers who are barely surviving. While Wyatt and Billy are riding around minding their own business, other people react to their appearance, call them animals, and threaten violence. George, the goofy alcoholic lawyer, has a powerful father and is, therefore, protected by the town. When he leaves his home turf, however, he is ill-equipped to survive in the larger world. Wyatt and Billy camp outdoors in the elements, live rough, and feel confident that they can take care of themselves.

The movie also incorporates a lot of religious symbolism. The dead lamb at the side of the road clearly symbolizes the sacrificial lamb. The rancher and his family pray at meal times, thanking God for what they have. So do the hippies at the commune, but their prayers seem less confident and more like a plea for help. The LSD trip is full of religious iconography about death and redemption. The brothel displays much religious art, reminding the viewer to repent of his sins. The message is clear: no matter how free a person is, he or she still answers to a higher authority.

Further symbolism includes the use of the term “gorilla” to denote people who live outside of society. The hippies’ mime troupe stage is called Gorilla Theater. The rednecks in the cafe refer to Wyatt, Billy, and George as “gorillas.” This dehumanization of the characters makes it easy for the rednecks in the truck to shoot Wyatt and Billy in cold blood without batting an eye or feeling any remorse.

And here is where we find the existential heart of the movie: “we blew it.” When the rednecks kill Wyatt and Billy in a senseless drive-by shooting, they wipe them out forever. The two freedom-loving boys disappear suddenly from history with nothing to show for their lives — no property, no wives, no children, no reputations, no legacies, and no signs that they ever lived. And this is what Wyatt realizes after George dies and he reads the quote on the wall. Freedom is great, but it cannot buy immortality in any meaningful form.

STUDENTS: DO NOT PLAGIARIZE MY WORK. It will show up on Turnitin.com.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

American Cinema, Film 110

January 29, 2018

Copyright 2018 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Please contact author for sources.

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