Ethan Frome (1993)


Imagine a snowy and cold afternoon in the midst of a long, harsh New England winter; you see a man moving toward you, slowly.  But he's not walking like a normal man would; he is limping along in a jerky and labored fashion, his foot and leg permanently bent at an odd angle. Picture a large locomotive, pulling to a stop at a lonely-looking train station platform, completely snow-covered and set at the edge of a small country town.  Picture this same sad town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a vast amount of empty, winter-frozen land. A man gets off the train. The man is the new local minister, Reverend Smith, who has just arrived in the New England town of Starkfield. He is met by Ned Hale, one of the local townspeople there to greet him. 


As Reverend Smith is being driven away, he notices the crippled man who is stooped over and struggling along. Shouldn't we give him a ride? asks Reverend Smith of Ned Hale, as they come upon the crippled man in their sled. "Him? Nah.  He wouldn't take it," is the abrupt reply. Over the next few weeks, Reverend Smith starts to wonder why this sad, deformed man is being overlooked by his fellow townspeople, and never shown any charity. He sees the man in the general store one afternoon and introduces himself. The man introduces himself only as Frome. His curiosity is aroused when everyone continues to ignore the man Frome. Reverend Smith even preaches a sermon on charity, to which he receives no palpable response. When one of the church women realizes that the Reverend Smith is going to leave the church to go back to Boston (because of the towns treatment of Frome), she decides to go ahead and tell him the whole tale of the tragic accident that happened so long ago


One cold, wintry day, many years earlier a young Ethan Frome buries his mother in the Starkfield cemetery.  After many years of sickness, she has finally succumbed to the illness invading her body and has gone on to join her husband. Shortly after the funeral Ethan marries his cousin Zenobia Zeena (who had been living with him and his mother in order to take care of her). Eight years pass and Zeena, who never had a very strong constitution to begin with, is now in an almost constant sickly state; the harsh New England winters and constant toil of never-ending farm chores have taken their toll on her delicate health. Zeena's cousin, Mattie Silver, comes to live with them after her parents death to help Zeena with the chores around the farm. Mattie had no place to go (because of fathers unwise investments, fraudulently losing all of her relatives money), nobody wants to take her in. Zeena asks her to stay with them to have some help with the chores around the farm (even though Mattie is fragile and shaken after her recent losses).  


A year passes and Mattie is now a healthy, robust young woman, nearly grown, and getting prettier every day. By this time, Zeena's health has deteriorated even further and even though she has been to countless doctors and spent much of Ethan's hard-earned money on various cures and treatments over the years, nothing ever seems to make her better.  Ethan and Mattie have become friends, with Ethan helping Mattie out with chores, as she has never quite caught the knack of kitchen work. Zeena notices them growing closer and becomes jealous. She tries to find a reason to send Mattie away, but Ethan argues, saying that Mattie has nowhere to go; Zeena's behavior begins to force the two lovers into each others arms as they seek solace.  And then, one cold wintry day, the unimaginable happens. The overall storyline centers on a man who married his cousin because he felt he should (and later regrets it); it revolves around a mans struggle with himself as he falls in love with a woman who is not his wife, and the subsequent adultery that follows. There is quite a bit of underlying sexual tension that leads up to a few passionate kisses between a married man and a single woman and a scene where he visits the same woman at night (shown is them kissing on the bed and the beginnings of more, although no nudity is shown. It lasts for a few torturous moments before the scene moves on).


There is also a violent accident scene, although not much is actually shown and someone tries to commit suicide. There really aren't any language issues to speak of other than some heated arguing. This tragic tale of forbidden love and adultery leaves quite a bit to be desired, both morally and emotionally; the overall tone and feel of this movie is dark, foreboding and depressing.  My advice: steer clear, or if you really love Edith Wharton enough, pick up the book instead.

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