Note: This entry contains spoilers.
Any big budget film makes me yawn (except “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” of course). Occasionally, I would go to one if I need to turn off my brain for a few hours. I prefer movies with good storytelling.
On June 13, my sister and I went to see a movie adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel “Far from the Madding Crowd.” The movie reveals the hardships, triumphs and pitfalls in relationships among friends and suitors.
I had read two of Thomas Hardy’s novels in high school: “The Return of the Native” and “Jude the Obscure.” Certain themes recur in his novels and are shown beautifully in this film:
- Connection to the land: Well-grounded people are linked with the land. Gabriel Oak exemplifies this as a shepherd.
- Fight for restoration: A character always fights for the restoration of a beloved site or membership into a historical organization. Bathsheba Everdene’s goal is to restore her uncle’s rundown farm.
- Conflict between two opposites: Hardy sets up a conflict and/or choice between two personality types: the purely logical and purely emotional. William Boldwood always logically maps out his decisions. Sgt. Frank Troy always acts on impulse. The conflict between the poles leaves plenty of ruined lives.
The key to understanding the movie was when Gabriel complains that George the young shepherd dog doesn’t know when to stop shepherding. The dog would lead to Gabriel’s ruin when it drove all his sheep over a cliff. The other characters were so entrenched in their habits that they would end up hurt. Bathsheba was so independent that she didn’t know when to follow good advice. Sgt. Troy’s persistent impulsiveness would bring ruin to Bathsheba and Fanny Robin, his former fiancée. Boldwood’s cold logic would lead to murder.
Even the names reveal something about the characters:
Bathsheba: Pronounced differently in the film, this name links back to David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel in the Bible. Being desired, Bathsheba is seduced and loses her husband because of the wiles of King David. But she would bring prosperity to the land. In the Bible, it was through the birth of King Solomon. In “Madding Crowd,” Bathsheba makes the farm prosperous.
Gabriel Oak: Oak is a strong, dependable wood. Gabriel has been indispensable to Bathsheba throughout the novel. Gabriel can be linked to the Archangel Gabriel in the Bible. Numerous times, Gabriel has acted as Bathsheba’s guardian angel warning her not to play with Boldwood’s feelings or falling in love with Troy.
Troy: Trojan War and the Trojan horse come to mind. Sgt. Troy is a military man and deceitful. The name conjures up Helen of Troy and the passions stirred to possess Helen.
Finally, Hardy and the film points to what love is and what love is not. Love is not purely emotional, sexual or logical. Love is giving oneself for the good of the other. Gabriel demonstrates this trait when he helped fight the fire in Bathsheba’s barn, cover up Bathsheba’s hay harvest during a storm and tells the truth to Bathsheba even when it cost him his job. This self-giving love is at the heart of the Christian message and manifested in Jesus.
If you like the movie, Thomas Hardy’s novels are worth reading next. “Far from the Madding Crowd” and “The Return of the Native” would be good starting points.