Recently, Ben Wheatley has announced his last project as an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. This comes hot on the heels of the success of A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper’s attempt at the story that has been put into film twice before. So what is so special about stories like these that means people just won’t stop remaking them? Certain stories are guaranteed to draw in audiences, but is this really because of the story, or is it simply because we don’t like change? We can go to the cinema to watch the latest adaptation of Austen safe in the knowledge that it probably won’t challenge something fundamental within our beliefs, and therefore these stories continue to resurface every few years.
‘As much as we like to believe otherwise, audiences really just want a story that they can predict. However, there is something with this indulgence of comfort that is inherently discomfiting’
Of course, there is something comforting about watching something we’ve essentially watched before – this is why almost all Hollywood films follow one of around five plots. This is also why Christmas films are so important. The cosy feeling that you get when watching them is not necessarily something intrinsic to the film, it’s simply the familiarity. This comfort comes from a sense of mastery. As much as we like to believe otherwise, audiences really just want a story that they can predict. However, there is something with this indulgence of comfort that is inherently discomfiting.
I had an argument with a tutor a few weeks ago, who believed that cinema seats should be uncomfortable, as comfort allows us to be passive and film should force us to engage. At the time, I was outraged by this view. However, our passivity when rewatching stories that we know by heart is alarming, and perhaps an uncomfortable seat would make us be more selective with what we allow on our screens.
Recently, I’ve started to feel as if remaking stories simply allows us to have a sense of guilt-free nostalgia. These remakes allow us to blame any political incorrectness on the time period and give us an excuse to ignore issues such as race, feminism and queerness. The reason given for remaking these stories is so often that they are somehow timeless or give voice to some sort of eternal struggle, but should we not be far more concerned with moving past this struggle than with reliving it?
‘These remakes allow us to blame any political incorrectness on the time period and give us an excuse to ignore issues such as race, feminism and queerness’
Turning to characters who have been around for hundreds of years for inspiration is at best lazy, and at worst oppressive. As much as I am appreciative of the work that Austen did and fully recognise how influential and important her strong female characters are, I don’t believe that in 2018 Elizabeth Bennett should be anyone’s feminist role model. Furthermore, many of these so-called strong women aren’t even strong, they’re just evil. Let’s take the women in Rebecca: one is a manipulative b****, one is so glad her husband’s first marriage was a sham that she ignores the fact he’s a murderer, and one tries to drive the other to suicide, by encouraging the jealousy of the first no less. Even if we don’t see these as strong women, they still allow us to enjoy a celebratory narrative of ‘look how far we’ve come’, rather than forcing us to deal with the very real issues affecting us now.
Although some remakes try to infiltrate these stories with feminist messages, this can be equally damaging. Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born received huge amounts of praise for portraying Ali as actually having a back bone and being slightly less dependent on Jack than Judy Garland’s heroine of 1954. This comparative improvement makes for a permissable ignorance of the sexism that is fundamental to the story.
These stories taking up space on our screens of course means less money and talent being devoted to new ones. In the light of the #MeToo movement and #OscarsSoWhite, do we not need a new narrative? The remaking of fail safe stories with established talent such as Bradley Cooper, despite his lack of directing experience, does nothing but demonstrate the continued elitism of Hollywood.
Essentially, what makes these stories special is that they are not special, they are safe. They were the best of their moment, and have therefore been given almost unquestioned permission to continue to take up space in Hollywood. Yes, there are beautiful moments and incredible performances to be found in these remakes, but these could be so easily translated into a new story with so much more to offer, and allow some incredible talent from less historically privileged communities to take to the screen and actually show us something new.