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Film / Portrait of Jennie

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"There is no life, my darling, until you love and have been loved. And then there is no death."
Jennie Appleton

Portrait of Jennie is a 1948 film based on the novella by Robert Nathan, directed by William Dieterle and produced by David O. Selznick. It stars Jennifer Jones as the title character (a coincidence, not The Danza) and Joseph Cotten as Eben Adams, the artist she inspires. Also in the cast are Ethel Barrymore and Lillian Gish.

New York City, 1934. The Great Depression rages on, and Starving Artist Eben Adams (Cotton) can't sell any of his landscape paintings. One gloomy winter day, he meets a young girl named Jennie Appleton (Jones), who mysteriously disappears before he can get to know her more. Finding her an interesting subject, Eben sketches her and is able to impress art dealer Miss Spinney (Barrymore) and sell his sketch. Eben makes it his mission to find Jennie again and have her sit for another portrait. But Jennie is no ordinary girl: she's eternally stuck in the past, yet able to grow and become a young woman very quickly. She and Eben know they are soulmates, but the cost of being together may be too high.


Promoted as a "fantasy," Portrait of Jennie combines drama, mystery and romance with more than a touch of the supernatural. Its extremely striking and atmospheric cinematography won Joseph H. August an Academy Award (unfortunately, he died before receiving it).

The titular portrait of Jennie was painted by Robert Brackman.

This film provides examples of:

  • Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts: At its core, the movie is a variation on the vanishing hitchhiker legend.
  • Big Applesauce: Much of the film takes place in 1930s New York.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Jennie's scarf. It first comes into Eben's possession when she forgets it in the park during their first meeting. Eben returns it, much to Jennie's surprise since she forgot about it. In the end, Miss Spinney finds it when Eben is recovered from the lighthouse, making it apparent that Jennie was real.
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  • Dead All Along: Jennie, although it can be interpreted many ways: is she a figment of Eben's imagination? A real muse? Or does it even matter at all since she was real to Eben?
  • Foreshadowing: Whenever Eben shows Jennie his painting of the Land's End lighthouse, she shudders and admits that she dislikes the painting very much. She does this in two occasions, making Eben wonder why she's so frightened. It's where Jennie died a long time ago.
  • Hostile Weather: A gale comes along when the weather was perfectly fair and almost drowns Eben.
  • I Will Wait for You: Applies to both main characters. Jennie says she will wait for Eben, and it's implied that he has to die for them to meet again.
  • Magical Girlfriend: Jennie ages rapidly to match her age up with Eben and can also reappear and disappear much like a ghost.
  • The Muse: Jennie for Eben. She gets him out his artistic rut and gives true life to his artwork.
  • One True Love: Jennie asserts that there is someone, only one person, that can be your true love.
  • The Power of Love: Posited in-universe as a possible cause of the film's events since Jennie constantly tells Eben that he needs faith in their relationship and that's the only way it can survive.
  • Rapid Aging: Eben first encounters Jennie when she's about 13. He then encounters her at intermittent intervals. Strangely, she appears to be growing up much more rapidly than is possible with every appereance.
  • Splash of Color: Most of the film is in black and white but its final scenes shift to a green and then sepia colour.
  • Starving Artist: Eben is an impoverished painter when the film begins.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Once Eben gets on his sailboat to try and meet Jennie in the old lighthouse, angry clouds roll in and a terrible storm brews and builds until it almost kills Eben.
  • Time Travel: A rather strange example: Jennie can somehow travel into the 1930s even though she's was only alive up until the 20s. Whether she is a ghost or not is debatable.
  • Wife Husbandry: Jennie is much too young for Eben at first, but she promises him that they are meant to be together and that she will grow up for him... and does. Very quickly.


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