Well, I believe we have some power over who we love, it isn’t something that just happens to a person.
After watching it the second time, I can definitely say that I love this movie even more than I did the first time. There is a dynamic force between the March sisters that is so powerful that you cannot help but love them, laugh at them (or with them, whichever you prefer), and cry with them because their stories and their lives relate to us in some way.
Now the story’s location and time period have nothing to do with my upbringing. For me, it is the relationship of the four March sisters that truly touched my heart. Each of the characters is strong on their own but together, they are invincible. They’re compatible and the bond they have with each other is the strongest element of the entire story.
Little Women is spectacular in capturing the relationships between the four sisters. Whenever the four sisters are in a room together, the director never misses a beat and the sisters always have something exciting to say. All of the actors deliver their lines perfectly and the performances by Florence Pugh and Saoirse Ronan are incredible. Pugh, in particular, plays Amy March wonderfully. There is never a dull moment when she’s in a scene. Or anyone else for that matter.
Essentially, the story is about how women are set in a society where they have certain standards and rules set for them. Jo March, the writer of the family who wants nothing to do with romance is focused on trying to keep her family afloat by writing novels and short stories. At the beginning of the film, Jo mentions to an editor that she is working on a new story. He tells her to make the story ‘short and spicy’ which means makes it scandalous, duh because it’s the 19th century, of course! And that at the end of the story, the female character is a girl that she should be married. There needs to be a happy ending at the end… or more importantly, an ending that sells! Jo agrees to it because she doesn’t have any other choice.
Jo is particularly fond of Friedrich Bhaer, a professor who stays at the same hostel with him, whom she calls a colleague and a friend. When she receives a gift from Friedrich and in return, she asks him what he thinks of her stories. Friedrich dislikes them. Jo is offended and immediately cuts all ties with him. She yells at him and says that they were never friends and she never wants to be friends with him ever again. It’s clear that Jo doesn’t take his criticism lightly. She is hurt because, in her mind, she is an incredible writer. By selling her work and teaching her students, she is unable to find joy in the one thing that she loves the most.
Seven years ago, Beth contracted scarlet fever and Jo helped her recover. When she hears that Beth is sick again, she immediately rushes to help her family, emotionally and financially. She decides to give away all her money to help Beth recover and spend more time with her. Beth, who is the quiet one in the family is the talented piano player. She doesn’t socialise with other people. She is very shy and hides behind people. I don’t think that the characters’ passivity is a negative element. When Mister Lawrence, next-door neighbour and Laurie’s grandfather invites her to play his daughter’s piano, that is when we see Beth being herself. This is where she shines brightest, where she is at her strongest. It is Beth that encourages Jo to keep writing. Her death is what drives Jo to write about her family’s domestic struggles and their relationship.
The other March sister, Amy, lives with Aunt March in Paris. She is set to marry Fred Vaughn from London, but she desires someone else: Laurie. After seven years apart, Amy meets Laurie again and their friendship rekindles. Laurie realises that he is in love with Amy but she doesn’t reject him. She is upset when Laurie tells her about having been in love with Jo, she tells him that she has always felt like a second choice whenever it comes to Jo.
Amy turns down Fred’s proposal not because of what Laurie said, but she realizes that she has never loved Fred, and she never will. I don’t think Laurie influenced her decision to end her relationship with Fred in any way. The movie talks a lot about women being able to set out into the world and make decisions on their own. In this situation, Laurie does tell her that he loves her, but only after they meet seven years later. But for Amy, she has been in love with Laurie since they met, and when she finally admits that, she runs away from him. It doesn’t make her weak. Her ability to accept her love for Laurie and ultimately to be truthful to herself is what makes Amy one of my favorite characters in the movie.
There is a scene in the movie that is perhaps one of my favorite parts of the film. This is when Amy and Laurie are in the studio. Amy admits that she has failed as an artist, and she is ready to settle down with someone because that is the only and best option for her. It is not only the line but the way that Florence Pugh delivers the dialogue. She argues that she just a woman. She has no way of making money and provides for her family. When a woman marries a man, her wealth and children immediately become his, and the woman is left with nothing. That is, life is not going to be fair for Amy. That even if she became a famous painter or a poet, she would still be someone’s wife. That marriage has always been an economic proposition and nothing else.
Well, I’m not a poet, I’m just a woman. And as a woman I have no way to make money, not enough to earn a living and support a family. Even if I had my own money, which I don’t, it would belong to my husband the minute we were married. If we had children they would to him not me. They would be his property. So don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition, because it is. It may not be for you but it most certainly is for me.
Jo is the complete opposite. She runs away from love. Maybe because she wasn’t ready, maybe because she knew that she wasn’t capable of reciprocating the same feelings that Laurie had for her seven years ago, Friedrich is infatuated by her, and she is too, but she doesn’t want to admit it.
After her sister Beth dies, she realizes that she is lonely. She is upset about the fact that society believes love and marriage is the only thing that a woman is fit for, and yet she wants it. She admits that she has made bad decisions in the past, and that is the reason why she ended up alone. During the scene, she says that maybe she was too harsh in her decision to shut down Laurie, and if he asks her again, she would say yes. She wants companionship with someone. When her mother, Marmee, asks her about Friedrich, Jo says that she ruined that with her temper. Here, Jo knows that she made a mistake by lashing out at him immaturely without asking him what could she do to make it better?
Jo’s realization that she turned down Laurie too fast and would give him a second chance if he asks her again is too late. She finds out that Amy and Laurie are married. Devastated, she accepts that it was not meant to be in the first place. What they had was not romantic at all. She was just confused over the death of Beth and coming to terms with her loneliness. Now, I don’t think that her being alone is a sign of weakness. Since the beginning of the movie, Jo wants to make it on her own, without the help of a man. Jo March is a character that speaks to a lot of women. She is strong, dutiful to her parents, and sometimes stubborn and silly, but those are characteristics that we all possess.
I can relate to what Jo goes through in the film, not where she says that she is lonely and wants companionship particularly. But the part where she says that women have minds, ambition, and talent of their own, and being told that love is all a woman is fit for. It is always bottled down to whether or not she has a partner or the dreadful question of when is this person going to have kids with a big question mark. I’ve always been asked these questions many times. Honestly, I am so tired of it. I think it is important to remember that not every woman wants to get married and have kids.
Women have minds and souls as well as hearts, ambition and talent as well as beauty and I’m sick of being told that love is all a woman is fit for. But… I am so lonely.
During the third act, when Friedrich comes to visit Jo at her house, she is delighted. After dismissing Friedrich the last time that they met, she wasn’t sure that she was ever going to see him. When his visit comes to an end, Friedrich mentions that he hopes that he would get to see her soon in California. Jo is oblivious. Her family confronts her by saying that she is in love with him. Jo denies it. Her sisters, Amy and the other one who shall not be named, say that she would run after Friedrich and tell her how she feels about him.
When she gets to the station, the scene cuts to where Jo is talking to the editor. He is complaining about the fact that Jo doesn’t end up with Laurie and that the story should have a happy ending where Jo gets married to someone. Jo points out that in the book, she repeatedly says that she doesn’t want to be married. “Marriage has always been an economic proposition, even in fiction.” Her editor insists again that romance is what sells fiction. Upon his remarks, she changes it so that Jo and Friedrich end up together.
Anyways, Jo and Amy are the two characters that I could connect with. Amy, the boastful sister that gets into trouble and dreams of being the best at everything. A character who doesn’t like to be anyone’s second choice. Who wants to love and be loved by someone. Jo who at times can be very headstrong and that is not a bad quality in a person at all. She made the decisions all on her own, even though it took a bit of nagging from her sisters to run after Friedrich at the train station. Hmmm funny, usually it’s the other way around in the movies.
Little Women by Greta Gerwig is truly one of the best films out right now. I cannot wait to watch more of her projects. All of her characters always have a bit of magic and sadness to them. She captures the essence of the characters, all their flaws, and all their stories.
This article was previously published on Medium.