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Film / Girl with a Pearl Earring

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Girl with a Pearl Earring is a 2004 film directed by Peter Webber, based on the novel of the same name. It garnered numerous awards both in the States and abroad. They include three Academy Award nominations, a Best Photography Oscar, and two Golden Globes for Best Actress and Best Score. In England, it won a London Critics Circle Film Award and a British Independent Film Award, both for Best Actress. It stars Colin Firth as Johannes Vermeer, Scarlett Johansson as Griet, and Cillian Murphy as Pieter.

Delft, Holland, 1665. After an accidental kiln explosion leaves her father blind and her family desperately poor, Griet becomes a maid to the Vermeer family. She is to clean the master's studio. Though the Vermeers appear to be wealthy, at least to Griet's eyes, she soon finds out that this is a façade and the family is actually in ever-deepening debt and they can barely afford to pay her.

As Griet folds herself into the life of this strange family, she finds herself growing closer to the master because they see the world in much the same way. She is the only member of the household allowed into the studio, which sparks jealousy in Vermeer's daughters and especially in Vermeer's wife Catharina. This only grows worse as Griet begins to help Vermeer in his work, mixing paints. However, all of this is necessary in order to please Vermeer's patron, van Ruijven, who is their main source of income. Soon, Vermeer starts working on a portrait of Griet.

When van Ruijven takes an interest in Griet, everyone knows exactly what that means for her. In order to keep her position, Griet must fight her feelings for her master, not offend his patron, and keep her head down around Catharina. It's only a matter of time before something gives way.

Girl with a Pearl Earring includes examples of the following tropes

  • Adaptational Heroism: Tanneke in the film is a much more pleasant Cool Big Sis to Griet whilst in the book she was often much more moody and by the end she had come to resent Griet and contributed to her woes. When Catharina is accusing Griet in the book, Tanneke agrees with her, whilst in the film she's surprised when Catharina says that Tanneke has been complaining about Griet implying that Catharina's just lying.
  • Adapted Out: Griet does not have a younger sister named Agnes in the film. It's easy to miss her brother, but they did at least show him.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: When Griet's parents meet Pieter, her mother is very obviously trying to encourage their relationship. Griet rolls her eyes.
  • Artistic License – History: Griet is entirely fictional, no-one knows who Girl with a Pearl Earring depicted.
  • Attempted Rape: Van Ruijven begins making moves on Griet immediately after spotting her and tries repeatedly through the film to force her into sex. He almost succeeds.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Catharina tries to create this in her home, but the stress of having so many children pushes her husband away instead of pulling him closer, as every new baby in the Vermeer family is another mouth to feed and more stress on their already strained finances.
  • Betty and Veronica: A gender-flipped example: Pieter the son as Betty and Vermeer as Veronica, with Griet as the Archie.
  • Big Fancy House: The Vermeers' house is huge and lavishly furnished, at least to Griet.
  • Birds of a Feather: Griet and Vermeer are attracted to each other because of their similar ways of looking at the world.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Griet manages to extricate herself from the web of the Vermeer household, but she will never see the master again.
  • Book Dumb: Catharina, in a fit of rage, points out that Griet is illiterate. This is in contrast to the book where she sometimes reads a prayer book.
  • Broken Bird: Van Ruijven's wife, as shown during the birth feast and viewing. Her husband is having a grand old time, and she's sitting there in silence like she's praying for the humiliation to end.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Inverted. Most people in Delft are Dutch Calvinists, and it is the Vermeers and their Catholicism that are strange and out of place.
  • City of Canals: Delft in both the film and Real Life.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Catharina is constantly trying to get her husband's attention, and is jealous that he never paints her.
  • Cool Big Sis: The film's interpretation of Tanneke is more like this, where she is something of an older sister and mentor figure to Griet, wiser in the ways of the world. In the book she is like this in a good mood, but she is a fairly simple woman and prone to jealousy.
  • Demoted to Extra: As part of compressing the story for the film adaptation, Griet's family and her growing conflicts with them were mostly written out of the story. Her brother Frans is only seen once and never heard.
  • Dirty Old Man: Van Ruijven, who gets creepily flirty with Vermeer's daughters. Maria Thins redirects him immediately.
  • Hands-On Approach: Johannes Vermeer attempts to teach Griet to grind paints by placing his large manly Dutch Master hands over hers, totally obliterating the proper social barriers between them —- she gets pretty flustered.
  • Historical Domain Character: The film is about the famous "Girl with a Pearl Earring" painting so naturally, the people behind it are the main focus in the film such as Johannes Vermeer (including his family), Pieter van Ruijven, and Maria Thins. The only notable exception is Griet, an O.C. Stand-in for the girl in the famous portrait.
  • Hollywood Science: A case of artistic perception of housework. Anyone doing their chores as slowly as Griet would never get anything done. A good example is the cleaning windows scene, where Griet starts cleaning a whole wall of windows so slowly and meticulously it would probably take her a whole day to clean them all in Real Life.
  • Keeping the Enemy Close: Catharina agrees to let Griet sleep in the attic, where she is not allowed to go, on the condition that she get to lock the door to the studio so Griet doesn't make off with her jewelry.
  • Lady in Red: The infamous maid in the red dress. Sadly for her, she was not a seductress, she was a victim.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: The incidental music is incredibly sparing and this is virtually the only motif used in the entire film.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Vermeer and Catharina have five children and one on the way. Catharina is pregnant again before the end.
  • Maybe Ever After: Pieter is obviously serious about Griet and she has feelings for him in turn, but the viewer isn't given any resolution as to whether or not they will end up together.
  • Meaningful Name: Griet is the Dutch form of 'Margaret,' which is Greek for pearl. In Dutch, 'griet' is also a generic term for 'girl'.
  • Never Bareheaded: Griet always, always, always wears a cap, and while most women allow at least some hair to show, she does not.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted in the book, where the butcher and his son are both named Pieter, but played straight in the film where the father is renamed Paul.
  • Parental Favoritism: Cornelia is Catharina's favorite child, because Cornelia is the most like her.
  • Pottery Barn Poor: The Vermeer household looks well off but lives on the verge of going bankrupt every day and only goes deeper into debt.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: In order to keep the film at a decent 103-minute running time, different scenes in the book were sometimes compressed together into one scene. The best example being the birth feast for Franciscus and the viewing of van Ruijven's painting. The DVD release has a feature about how these scenes from the book were combined to form the film scene.
  • Retargeted Lust: After the married artist and his model have an unplanned steamy moment, they separate. She goes off to have her way with the butcher's boy who always liked her, while he has sex with his wife.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Scarlett Johansson plays Griet, and her bright green eyes are shown often in close-up. Everyone compliments them and Vermeer is drawn toward her because of them.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Pieter can't understand why Griet refuses to leave the Vermeer family, even though she is only getting into more and more trouble at the house.