Thought Control - #8 - Jude

thought control logoClosing the door on this session of Thought Control, let's look at what could also be called a sort of threshold film,

Michael Winterbottom's feature from 1996, Hossein Amini's adaptation of the book 'Jude the Obscure' by Thomas Hardy.

The Cincinnati Post said in 1997, "Jude (Christopher Eccleston) and Sue Brideshead (Kate Winslet) attempt to transcend a false and rigid morality, only to be ground down as much by their own flaws as by the forces arrayed against them. Still, we can find something heroic in their passionate failure. [...] To fall back on an ancient and useful distinction, 'Jude' achieves pathos rather than tragedy. The characters seem more victims of circumstance than of their own uncompromising natures. Yet the tale's overall impact is undiminished. 'Jude,' as beautiful as it is desolating, blows from the screen like a first gust of winter."

The Washington Times review (1996) noted, "Mr. Winterbottom's harrowing 'Jude' is more in the nature of a barebones adaptation, but the skeleton proves adequate to the book's burden of fatalistic struggle and heartbreak. The principal cast member, Christopher Eccleston, achieves a particularly stirring embodiment of the title character after inheriting the role from a pair of juvenile actors and shouldering its weight to the bitter end. A lean, craggy young spellbinder, Mr. Eccleston seems to grow more persuasive and even commanding in the role as Jude painfully matures and endures."

Chicago Sun-Times (1996) called it a "grim weeper", and pondered, "Only the energy of the leading actors and the glory of the photography rescue the film from the slough of despond - and in a way, Hardy might have thought, that's cheating. [...] What was Hardy arguing in his novel? Many of his books were about ordinary working-class people whose best efforts were not enough to escape the trap set for them by society. They labored, they dreamed, and the establishment slapped them down like troublesome flies. Despite the fact that Hardy was writing at a time when a socialist critique of his society was being fashioned, he doesn't seem to have a political message: Hardy was not a reformer but a mourner."

Jude and Sue are sometimes described as being born ahead of their time. Were they to live in the world of today, would they really fare better - or perhaps worse?



joanr16 said...

There are multiple layers to Jude and Sue's situation. First, their aspirations; Jude desires a "Christminster" education, which I understand represents so-called "Oxbridge." I don't know if that world is as impermeable today as it was 130 or so years ago; what do you say, British commenters? In America, it is possible for a bright young person to come from obscurity and get an excellent university education if they're sufficiently driven (see: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama). But then, we could have a long discussion about whether American society ever was or will be as stratified as British society circa 1870-80.

Sue aspires to independence, and yes, today she'd be much freer to associate with whomever she pleased, keep erotic art in her flat, stay out late and have a live-in boyfriend, and not lose her home, job, or place at school.

But another layer, Jude and Sue's relationship, is more complicated. Depending on where they lived, they probably wouldn't be shunned for being unmarried and having a family together. But they're both still married to others (even today some people just don't bother with divorce), and they're cousins in some degree. Those aspects of their relationship could still raise eyebrows, I expect.

That's why Hardy's novel fascinates me: many of the characters' choices still seem startling, even today.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

I agree that technically it would be simpler for Jude to enter the university, if he were 'sufficiently driven'. But the question remains, whether it would be what he wants? Would he really be empowered to reach his goals, or would he still end up disillusioned? There are all chances he'd be sitting with a degree and on the dole, or shackled in a debilitating job. I don't think idealists of today have it any easier than a century ago.

For Sue, yes, it would be a better climate to develop, and she'd certainly find a place for herself.
Relationship, it does depend on the location. Most probably though it would only be questioned within their families, if at all. They'd also have birth control.
And well, remembering what Eccleston wrote in his postcard for Manchester Reads, they'd really benefit if not from self-help books, then from penicillin for sure.