“The book was so much better,” we always say.
After all, how dare that movie intrude on our imaginations? How dare they give the character that nose or that laugh? Oh, not that laugh! Why would they cut that scene, of all things to cut. That was the best part. And where did this part come from? That wasn’t in the book, for heaven’s sake.
But every so often—once, perhaps twice in a lifetime—a movie comes along that changes your perspective of the book, the infuses new life into a beloved read. For me, that movie is Little Women, the version with Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, and Christian Bale. (Of course, I’ve since come to realize I love all movies with Christian Bale.) To understand the significance of this, you must understand my love of the book Little Women.
I wanted to be Jo. No, that isn’t right. I am Jo—uncoordinated, over-imaginative, blunt Jo. I was in love with Laurie. I couldn’t stand Amy (sorry, Kirsten Dunst!), and I had a special place in my heart for Beth. On my better days, I strived to be Beth (although Jo always took over). Though I never lived in Civil War days, though I never set my dress on fire (although, yes, I did set my sneakers a-smoking, if you must know the truth), though I never read for hours on end to an elderly aunt, Little Women tells my story.
You see, I’ve dreamt of traipsing around Europe (“my Europe!” Jo exclaims). I grew up penning story after story (and even started a club with some friends to write and sell stories in my neighborhood as a girl). And one of my favorite childhood memories was taking a favorite book to a sick girl in the hospital.
So to fall in love with the movie version seems outlandish and testifies to the love that must have gone into the making of the movie. I’m sure of it.
I go through movie stages. I watch one movie over and over and over again. Every day at lunch, I’ll play the next 15 or 20 minutes. When the movie comes to the end after several days, I’ll restart it (or, in days of old, rewind it). I’ve done this with When Harry Met Sally, Steel Magnolias, Pirates of the Caribbean, and I’ve done this with Little Women. Now, rereading the book, the faces from the movie become the faces in my imagination.
But not only has this movie infiltrated my imagination in a way that Anne of Green Gables and Huck Finn never could, it’s changed my perspective.
Now, to be fair, it’s quite possible that this came with age, with a greater understanding of who Jo really is and who she needs. Or it could be Gabriel Byrne’s sexy, I mean, talented and tenderhearted portrayal of Professor Bhaer.
The movie made me realize that Jo does not, in fact, belong with Laurie. She belongs with Friedrich. In my young-at-heartness, I protested the end. What? How could she fall in love with him? What about Laurie? What about their pranks? Their mutual love? Their laughs? Obviously, there’s chemistry between them. I even rewrote the ending (a common habit I have when unhappy with books and movies). “I have a surprise for you,” Laurie says at the door. Then (instead of revealing his new wife, Amy—the man-stealing brat), he takes a velvet box from his pocket and opens it to expose a diamond ring. “Will you be my wife?” She rushes into his arms. “Yes, Laurie! Yes!” And she gets published, and they all lived happily-ever-after.
Now (in my oh-so-matureness), that ending makes me cringe. (Good thing Louisa May Alcott wasn’t taking my advice at the time she wrote the book.) No, no. Laurie and Amy, with their half-hearted shenanigans, deserve each other.
Jo needs someone to push her to greatness. She needs someone to make her see something beyond the surface. Someone to encourage her when she wants to give up. Someone who kisses her gently on the cheek, brings her an orange, and tells her to keep writing. And what would Jo do with all that wealth anyway? What has wealth got to do with writing great stories, as Jo must do?
I’m thankful for Alcott’s right ending, as the movie forced me to see, because I now have my Friedrich Bhaer, and he’s exactly who I need.
Heather A. Goodman continues to pen stories. In her spare time, she loves reading to her niece, voicing all the characters, of course, and blogging about books, movies, and all things imaginative at L’Chaim.