Making the Grades
Lily Bart (Gillian Anderson) has all the right connections in New York's early twentieth century high society, but will only retain her glamorous lifestyle if she can secure a wealthy husband to make up for her lack of financial means. Although her heart is quite engaged by Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz), the sophisticated bachelor is not quite rich enough to be her most eligible choice, so she continues to coyly play the singles scene.
Questioning her own ambitions, Lily is hesitant to select any of her many suitors, and instead flirts with jealousy as a tool to gain her heart's desire. But toying with affections can be a dangerous game for someone with such a precarious footing on the social ladder. Preoccupied in her own affairs, she naively trusts in the public facades of her climbing acquaintances, neglecting to notice the calculated motives behind their friendship until their stampede snaps the rungs beneath her eagerly ascending feet.
In the tradition of period dramas, The House Of Mirth is a collection of conversations and shared gossip about a multitude of characters (whose names the viewer must later be able to put to faces and then keep track of), acting so subtle that a raised eyebrow may indicate a major plot twist, lengthy shots of beautiful drawing rooms, and an elaborately costumed cast.
Unlikely to appease the action/adventure crowd, this film adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel of the same name, may offer food for thought to fans of this genre (who will undoubtedly be predominantly female). Ms. Anderson gives a strong performance of a young woman whose true moral character is revealed when she is tested by a compromised reputation.
Parents should be aware that the story discusses extramarital affairs, depicts the abuse of prescription drugs, and glamorizes a tragic heroine. Yet Lily's struggle to maintain her integrity and self-respect displays a commendable inward fortitude that is under-appreciated by her snobby society friends, and even by Lily herself. The House Of Mirth explores the pitfalls of chasing popularity's fickle favor in a way that is no laughing matter.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The House Of Mirth.
From the opening conversation of this film between Lily and Lawrence, it becomes obvious that the necessity of employment is a great social stigma. Why do you think they felt this way? What did they do with their time instead of working?
In society today, having enough money to retire from labour is still seen as the ultimate goal. Do you think that working is a negative thing? What would you occupy your time with if you didn’t have to hold down a job?
As Lily’s marriage prospects diminish, she has difficulty adjusting to life in the working class. Why were most of Lily’s friends unable to understand the desperation of her situation?
Having few marketable skills, she later tells Lawrence that she is a useless person. Was that true? What other kinds of employment might she have tried to explore? How did Lily’s perceived uselessness effect her vision of her future life? How do you feel about her solution to her problems?