Admittedly, I wasn’t without my own prejudices upon hearing that Little Women was to grace theaters for the fourth time. I’ve never taken to the story itself, even when I read it as a novel in high school, nor have I ever really been attached to its earlier film predecessors. And being one that much preferred the production of new stories over (what I believed to be) a tired old classic, I thought to myself: Were Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Winona Ryder not enough to bring this novel to life? Must we sit through the story of Beth, Jo, Meg, and Amy yet again?
It is only after I experienced Greta Gerwig’s adaptation that I see why this particular material is always subject to numerous reincarnations. It holds truths that transcend time: about youth, family, love, womanhood, and the mundanity of everyday life. Perhaps it always has; but only Gerwig’s sincerity and warmth was able to make me care.
I was immersed in a world that wasn’t at all mine but one that never tried too hard to make me feel like I belonged. Before watching, I thought the strong pang of alienation I felt from the book and past films would make itself known again. Instead, you feel the warmth of the fire on your skin. You laugh as the March sisters participate in their endless banter. There is a familiar lilt of girlhood innocence and wonder, where the world outside is forgotten to the tunes of the piano and a role played in a costume. It’s a home, and you’re part of the family.
Ironically, it reminded me of the quote “Do you feel held by him?” from Ari Aster’s Midsommar. Even with an entirely opposite genre and the wrong Florence Pugh movie in mind, it made sense to me. I felt held by the Marches, by Gerwig, in a way that feels unusually intimate though not at all unwelcomed.
And then… the world happens. The real world. Work and New York and sickness and death. As scenes switch between then and now, there comes the reminiscent hope that the warm past can seep its way into the cold present. The film makes great use of color grading to separate the two timelines (that didn’t at all confuse me, so I don’t know what these Academy voters are talking about that is absolutely taking over Film Twitter discourse) and times it in a way that elevates lighthearted retrospect and heavyhearted take-me-back’s when it’ll tug at the heart hardest.
Then there is a need for you, the viewer, to do the holding.
It is not a story if there is no soul. A story cannot touch another soul without one of its own. Gerwig elevates such a notion, by compelling your soul to participate in such an exchange.
A part of me will always hold this story dear, even if it took several adaptations for me to notice.
Images courtesy of Sony Pictures