The House of Mirth

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
The House of Mirth Movie Poster Image
A very worthwhile adaptation of Wharton's novel.
  • PG
  • 2000
  • 140 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Unequal treatment of women in early 20th century society.

Violence

Sad, with themes that may be disturbing, possible suicide.

Sex

Mild reference to an indecent proposal and a compromised reputation.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Character abuses a narcotic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is much darker than the usual Merchant-Ivory corsets and carriages movie. Lily becomes addicted to a narcotic. A death is a possible suicide, portrayed as the only honorable choice. The issue of a reputation "compromised" by having an affair is an important theme in the movie. A man tricks Lily into allowing him to invest money for her, putting her in his debt so that she will feel obligated to sleep with him.

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What's the story?

Set in 1905 New York, THE HOUSE OF MIRTH centers on Lily Bart (Gillian Anderson), whose assets are her beauty and charm. Almost completely dependent on her aunt for money, Lily knows she must marry a wealthy man, and soon. She comes close three times, but can't bring herself to go through with it. She loves Lawrence (Eric Stoltz), but because he is not wealthy and must work for a living, she never lets herself think of marrying him. Unfortunately, she makes some foolish choices: "We resist the great temptations, but it is the little ones that eventually pull us down." Though her only mistake is trusting the wrong people, her reputation is compromised. By the time she is willing to accept the proposal of businessman Sim Rosedale (Anthony LaPaglia), he only wants her as his mistress. Rosedale has a kind heart, and he likes Lily but she's damaged goods. Betrayed and shunned, Lily must now find a way to support herself, first as secretary/companion to a vulgar social-climber, then as an apprentice in a millinery shop. She makes one last desperate plea for help from her cousin, and considers an even more desperate attempt at blackmail, but that is a "great temptation" she is able to resist.

Is it any good?

With first-rate performances and sumptuous period detail, this is a very worthwhile adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel. Martin Scorcese said that his Wharton adaptation, The Age of Innocence, was his most violent film because it was about emotional violence. This, too, is about emotional violence. The betrayals and cruelty and the lack of alternatives may be very upsetting to some viewers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what has and hasn't changed since the book's setting, almost a century ago. Why do people tend to develop closed, tightly regulated hierarchies? How does the New York society in the movie compare to, say, high school? Why was it so hard for Lily to do what she knew was necessary to preserve her position in society? Why was it so hard for Lawrence to tell her how he felt?

Movie details

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