My favorite scene in Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice–which will likely always be my favorite, its much-vaunted predecessors notwithstanding–is when Elizabeth is spinning on a swing in the entryway to a farmyard. Every time I rewatch the movie and she heads out to the swing, I get excited. Because–though you won’t be able to get as much of a sense of it in this clip–it’s another one of those sudden departures from point-A-to-point-B storytelling Wright slips into this movie, without warning, when you had become quite accustomed to watching a straightforward narrative unfurl before you. And suddenly, this–is time passing? surely it must be; all that hay from threshing wouldn’t disappear by an afternoon rainstorm; but if time is passing, how much? weeks? months? years? He does not tell us with brazen seasonal markers like snow and jingle bells, or fans and blazing days. Clouds, sun, animals, hay, rain…each could fall most anywhere in the calendar, and we’re left unknowing where. Even when the scene ends, and Charlotte shows up with news of her engagement to Mr. Collins, she comes in wet from the rainstorm that’s still carrying on outside the safety of the stone entryway where the swing hangs, so we still don’t know how much time has passed.
The ambiguity, then, the generous leave we are granted to acknowledge it or ignore it, I am attracted to. But also the cuts back to Elizabeth’s face that make this not some lark on a swing amongst the barnyard critters, but indication of pensive–possibly even brooding?–thought. However much time is passing, she’s watching it fall on the home where she has grown up, on the daily rhythms she has known as far back ask she can remember carrying on as they always have in this place which will be taken from her. From all of them. Quite possibly because she has just rejected Mr. Collins–even with the approval of her father–and in doing so ensured that this house and yard and countryside which supports and shelters the laughter and closeness that characterizes her family will not pass safely into the hands of someone still in the family–someone who could conceivably prevail upon Mr. Collins to provide for her family’s staying on in some way. She has tossed aside that chance and, hell, was it worth it? she thinks, spinning. (Yes, yes, I know, not in such coarse terms, but still.)
There are things that are odd about the scene. Why would a swing be in the stone archway to a courtyard? What is it hanging from? Why does she take off her shoes? When she raises her legs out, she has removed her feet are bare–in a barnyard? a muddy one at that? do you want polio?–which seems less than wise. But it invites the assumption that she has done this all her life, gravitated to this swing, spun on it until the world tilts around her, even as a little girl carelessly kicking off her shoes and shrieking as the swing spins round.
When I was little, as we slowly dispensed with the furniture we’d carted around the country and upgraded to nicer, sturdier stuff, I was distraught at the loss of each ugly 1970s couch and each mottled plaid armchair. Because my childhood was full of moments like these, where you’re painfully aware of the passage of time even if you’re just learning about it. Lifting your palm from where you’d been leaning on it in the chair and seeing how much less space each plaid check imprint takes up–remembering when one check engulfed the space from knuckle to finger-joint, for example. Curling into a corner of the ugly couch and trying to catch the precise moment when the last smidgeon of light leaves the sky at night. Listening to the creak of the couch’s hide-a-bed as you pull it out for visiting cousins and remembering crying in the middle of the same bed on Halloween, because Snoopy Come Home was on TV and Snoopy wasn’t coming home.
The house, the fields, the yard, the swing–they don’t make Elizabeth’s family what it is. But they’re willing tools to help her remember her family the way it was. To have those tools taken away–to know that you won’t see or hear these things and have your memory jogged, an unexpected gem from years ago returned to you, shining–is not without its pain. When my parents chucked the brown couch to the curb, I snuck out at dawn and removed all the cushions and kept them shoved away in my closet for years. I couldn’t lift the couch, and even if I could have I didn’t have room to store it, but the cushions I could shelter, and did. And when finally space constraints demanded that I get rid of them, seeing them poking up out of the trash bin was a bitter accusation. Not only had I abandoned my attempts to hang onto them, but I’d robbed them of their context too, so now they weren’t even connected to a couch a family had grown up on–they were just bits of trash in a smelly old can by the curb. I had tried, at first, to convince my mother to donate them, but she said no one would want thirteen ugly old cushions to a long-absent couch. I felt sick with guilt.
This is likely not what Elizabeth is thinking, out there on the swing. But it’s at least possible that she’s thinking along the lines of time, memory, and the trickling away of each, as has been aided by her rejection of long hoped-for opportunity. And I love recognizing shared sentiment in that scene. Time is going, going, going, and you let it. There’s a camaraderie in seeing a character realize that, no matter that the people you’re sharing the moment with are attractive actors playing some of the most beloved characters in English literature. And there is no grand buildup to this scene, either–it just pounces on us with its sorrow and poignancy and piano, out of nowhere. I love that.