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Scene Breakdown: ‘Emma’ (2020) and the Showcase of Overwhelming Emotions

Anya Taylor-Joy in Autumn de Wilde's Emma 2020.

There are a lot of things Autumn de Wilde’s Emma gets right, and a few things that it doesn’t. (Namely, it’s length. As Austen’s longest book, if this film was a mini-series instead, goodness, it’d be sublime.) But where it continues to stand out apart from its stunning cinematography is the showcase of overwhelming emotions.

In this adaptation, emotions are front and center—no one is shying away from them, and they are on display with such spectacle, it places the necessary emphasis on just how engulfing feelings can be.

The detail about Emma as a book that has always stood out to me is just how emotional the character is, but how often that is something that’s disregarded.

Emma Woodhouse is bold and she’s loud and she’s confident, but so often, characters like her are the ones who’ve got a plethora of sadness buried deep within. This isn’t a character study on Emma so we’ll hold off on all that for the sake of this breakdown, but Autumn de Wilde’s Emma shows these emotions breathtakingly. Quite literally.

We can feel every ounce of Knightley’s overwhelming emotions when he goes to lie down on the floor. We can feel every ounce of both Emma and Knightley’s overwhelming emotions after they have danced for the first the first time.

And we can feel every ounce of Emma’s overwhelming emotions as she sits alone in her bedroom and sighs. We watched her cry with Mr. Woodhouse after the events of Box Hill moments earlier, but the continuation of those feelings reveals the fact that at heart, Emma Woodhouse is an empath. Critics have tirelessly called her brash and unfeeling, but it all comes down to the fact that Emma actually feels too much and so often, she herself doesn’t know how to handle it.

She doesn’t know how to deal with her own matters and thus, in matchmaking and meddling in the lives of others, Emma gives parts of those emotions out to others. It’s her way of freeing herself from the engulfing emotions that gnaw at her to do more—be more, see more, act more. In the film’s two hours, Wilde shows the audience just how much not only Emma as a character feels, but how much they all feel. (Even in his dramatic paranoia, Mr. Woodhouse is a just a man who is utterly terrified of change and being left alone.)

In her lone corner, atop windowsills, wherever Emma is, she is thinking—she is dwelling, she is wondering, and almost always, the feelings are too overwhelming.

Jane Austen quite literally summed up just how overwhelming love is as an emotion when she wrote: “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more,” and in this version of the adaptation, the very words are brought to life through the emotions characters can’t quite put it into words.

They run, they sigh, they lie down, they take deep, sometimes painful breaths, they cry, and they laugh. Sometimes, words just aren’t enough and that’s certainly the case even when trying to breakdown scenes that might just look like a simple act of sorts.

But ultimately, there are no words because it’s so much more than we as human beings could even grasp. It’s emotions on top of emotions and regrets and heartaches. It’s uncertainties and darkness even as the sun pierces through and our rooms are full of bright colors.

It’s a lot and it’s unbearably overwhelming at times. It can also be overwhelmingly happy and thrilling. Case in point, through Emma Autumn de Wilde got this detail right, frame by frame, masterfully and beautifully the emotions that were on full display told the kind of story that’s overwhelmingly relatable.

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