Hemingway’s Garden Of Eden

| December 9, 2010

Ernest Hemingway could possibly be my favorite novelist of all time. I love everything he has done, and I find that I can continue reading the same works of his, over and over, and I find new things I never noticed before. Garden Of Eden was one of the last things of his I ever read, and in all honesty, it was because of his own personal feelings about the book being published that pushed me away. If he seemed to not like it, then how was I supposed to? It’s a good read, just as everything he writes, and on this day I was asked to review the feature film version.
The movie starts simple enough. We get a quick little montage of the marriage between Catherine and David Bourne. A short scene is used to show how the two met, and it displays Catherine’s personality, which serves as both a reason one would be attracted to her, and also why one could potentially want to leave her. The next twenty minutes or so run rather slowly. There is a good amount of nudity in the film, and the beginning of the film doesn’t hold back, with a very erotic sex scene between the newly weds. The sex isn’t gratuitous, and it’s shot beautifully, and is incredibly artistic.
The story explores the joy of new love, the jealousy that comes with success, and the true destruction that idle hands can bring about. I don’t mean to sound like a misogynist, but I feel like Hemingway wrote Catherine as the archetype of so many married women trying to keep things fresh and interesting in their relationships. Women tend to believe that men are moved by their penis, and as long as you satisfy that, all will be well. David’s success is a threat to what the marriage is. She wants him to find happiness in only her. To find inspiration in her and only her. Because this wasn’t so, Catherine sets off to find anything that could make David give her attention, including another woman.
I think the reason the beginning of the film lost me a bit is that Mena Suvari, who is playing Catherine, wasn’t believable to me as a wealthy Jazz era socialite. Her lines were forced, her smiles seemed fake, and every time she had to exude a quality that would make us as an audience swoon, I didn’t. Her sarcastic remarks fell flat to the point I felt Jack Huston, who plays David, had trouble reacting realistically to her. I don’t mean to come down hard on Suvari, as she did pull it together in the second half of the film where the marriage is really put to the test, and she has to become almost a sociopath. She plays crazy well, and her lack of emotion or tone of voice really helps her seem crazy, when in the beginning it just made her bad.
Jack Huston gives an amazing performance, making me believe he was this insecure, wounded man just looking for love the entire time. Americans had a certain way of speaking back then, best embodied by the likes of Cary Grant, even though he was from England. Huston controls his emotions well, allowing only cracks of a smile, and the slight raise of an eye brow. He was every bit the gentleman, even as his world and marriage was falling apart.
As Catherine becomes more and more impatient, and attention starved, she brings home Marita, played by the beautiful and enchanting Caterina Murino. This is not a bad film, but Caterina stole it for me. Her eyes are soft, and her skin is sun kissed, her voice gentle, and hesitant. She is a vision, and though she is given some corny lines, she delivers them with such grace and charm you don’t even care. I will say that the love story between Marita and David comes about quickly, and I didn’t connect with them on it, but in the book it’s explained in much more detail than a two hour film could ever fully express.
The story isn’t tragic, and the flashback scenes of David hunting with his dad in Africa aren’t needed for the film. It’s needed in the book, and it explains in detail, the book David himself is writing, but in the movie it simply breaks flow. We’re watching two girls make out, David drunkenly trying to write, then we’re shot over to Africa twenty years earlier. The flashbacks took too long to come about in the film, and then it ends on a flashback causing me to lose any emotion I had gotten wrapped up in during the present.
The film is well written enough to make it enjoyable at times, but what I felt gave the film it’s realism, is the locations. The film is minute after minute of gorgeous French Riviera scenery. The art direction was perfection. The clothes were legitimate, and the pencils and typewriters were spectacular. It all felt like I was there, with them in the 1920’s. The way every character walked and talked, and sipped coffee or wine had the detail of a Hemingway novel. I loved it. It was breathtaking, and at the very least, if only that, the movie was going to be saved by how realistic it was. No expense was obviously spared.
The story is not a happy one, I will say that, but not too many of Hemingway’s are. It’s not sad, but he paints life so well that you don’t care. This is what reality is. It’s the good with the bad. It’s the sweet and sour. Hemingway and director John Hyne did that part right. The performances may have been off in some spots, and the story may have moved slow, or even gotten a little jumbled, but the overall feeling you were supposed to take away was taken away, at least for me. Love is unpredictable, but not once in a lifetime, and sometimes it’s much better that way.

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