Part III: Mansfield Park, cont’d.
Metropolitan, the first film by indie writer/director Whit Stillman, is thought by some to be a modernization of Mansfield Park. I happen to be one of the “some” in question. I saw the film 12 years after I first read the book, and didn’t remember much of the story. And, when I read the book after seeing the movie, I knew I liked the movie, but still didn’t like the book. Now, of course, I am a big fan of both.
But I digress.
Here is an essay I found that says a lot of the same things I think about this film — that, while it’s not a literal re-telling of Austen’s story, a lot of the same elements are present. We have a quiet, reserved, virtuous heroine (Audrey), a young man who is somewhat of an outsider (Tom), a notorious womanizer who tries to seduce the heroine (Rick), a woman Tom is obsessed with but whom we all know is wrong for him (Serena), and assorted other characters who occasionally resemble those from the book. For those who don’t have a copy of “Jane Austen in Hollywood” available to them, here is some of the book over at Google Books (the link should take you to page 65, where similarities between Mansfield Park and Metropolitan are discussed). As an aside, try to get a copy of the book; it’s excellent and is a good companion to another book that discusses Austen adaptations, “Jane Austen on film and television” by Sue Parrill. Parrill’s book disagrees with the premise that Metropolitan is an updated Mansfield Park, but the book is still worth reading.
Austen is mentioned repeatedly in the film; Audrey is a Janeite, and she and Tom even talk about Mansfield Park. Tom brings up Lionel Trilling’s famous essay on the novel, wherein Trilling says that nobody likes Fanny Price. Audrey defends Fanny and, in a way, defends herself for not being quite as “forward” as the other girls in the group the movie centers upon (the “Sally Fowler Rat Pack”).
As in Mansfield Park, we have a group of young people who are essentially left alone by their parents. And, as is often the case, regardless of what time period we’re talking about, young people left to their own devices have been known to get into trouble. In Metropolitan, the young people in question play games that virtuous girls don’t play (strip poker and “Truth”); unlike Fanny Price, Audrey is convinced to go along with the crowd and play. Unfortunately, she hears and sees things that hurt her — proving that her instincts were right all along, just as Fanny Price’s were when she refused to take part in the play Lovers’ Vows.
Of course, we have a happy ending here too, but the movie’s ending is a little more ambiguous than the book’s. In Mansfield Park, we know that Fanny and Edmund get married and live “happily ever after.” In Metropolitan, we know that Tom realizes Audrey is the girl for him, but we don’t know what happens to them after the credits roll. We don’t know if they’ll get married, and we don’t know about any “happily ever afters.” But that’s OK; I like to imagine that Audrey and Tom are as happy together as they want to be.
Up next, Emma.