How has Heckerling transformed the first few pages Of 'Emma' to the opening of 'Clueless' ?

Essay by NotebookHigh School, 10th gradeB, July 2009

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By transforming Jane Austen’s novel “Emma” to the movie “Clueless”, Heckerling takes note of the fact that values have dramatically changed between the 19th and 20th century, and many of the values in Austen’s time is now seen as very outdated compared to the values we now live by in modern society. Heckerling has transformed the first few pages of “Emma” to the opening of “Clueless” by adapting the text into a new medium (book to film), audience (adults to teenagers) and context (19th Century, England to 20th Century, America). By doing this, Heckerling also transforms the values, morals and ideals of ‘Emma’ so that the modern-day audience can better relate to “Clueless” as they will more likely pick up on the ironies and humour compared to picking it up in the original text “Emma”. Even though Heckerling has transformed “Emma” to a more modern text, there are some values and themes that still remain, such as - relationships, deception, social structure, wealth and love.

In the opening of “Clueless”, there is a active-sounding pop-rock music in the background and very vibrant colours are seen. Heckerling does this in the opening to imply a change of audience as the rapid-paced music and vibrant colours imply a sense of fun, carefree and immaturity, therefore successfully establishing to the audience that teenagers is the targeted audience, not adults. Heckerling has modified the first paragraph in “Emma” with mosaic-like shots of Cher having fun at the beginning of the opening scene in “Clueless”. We see shots of Cher and her friends partying, eating, shopping and driving. In all of the shots, Cher is either in the middle or by herself - in short, all the attention is directed at her. Also, the song, ‘Kids of America’, used along with the montage of shots immediately creates irony as the first few opening scenes completely contradicts the song which is about and ordinary American kid’s life. The fast camera movement suggests that the camera is hand-held and looks like as if Cher is the one moving it with her voiceover, she is showing us ‘her world’. Heckerling’s “Clueless” presents a modern setting.

As the song begins to fade out, we have Cher’s voiceover and she comments on how the montage of shots looks like a ‘Noxzema commercial’ to us before stating, ‘…but seriously, I actually have a WAY normal life for a teenage girl. I mean- I get up, I brush my teeth and I pick out my school clothes!’. Again, this creates irony and humour as we see her picking her school clothes using a computer to match her clothes for her. By doing this, Heckerling is indeed showing that Cher is ‘…handsome… and rich’, ‘…seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence’ and ‘…lived…in a world with very little to distress or vex her’. Heckerling has also showed the audience that Cher, like Emma, is bad at match-making as the words ‘mis-match’ appears on the computer screen when she was trying to match an outfit.

In “Emma”, Austen describes the upbringing of Emma and how her upbringing has helped mould her current personality in the beginning of the novel - her mother died when she was of an early age and her father can’t say ‘no’ to her as he can see no wrong in Emma, therefore spoiling her. With such poor parental guidance, Emma gets too much of her own way and can never think wrongly of herself and her actions. Heckerling has also transformed this part of the text - Cher’s mum died when she was a baby from a liposuction routine and, even though her dad can say ‘no’ to her in “Clueless”, he still spoils her. Due to the poor parent guidance, Cher and Emma both live in their world of denial, refuse the acknowledge the world outside theirs’ and they both can’t seem to realise that they have the power to harm the people around them. The only difference between Emma and Cher, apart from their names, is how they react to certain situations - Cher reacts more like an ‘airhead’ while Emma reacts stubbornly and arrogantly.

In “Clueless”, Cher’s dad has a completely different character compared to Mr. Woodhouse- he is a litigator. By Cher’s dad having a completely different personality, Heckerling shows a change of context and values- in “Emma”, Mr. Woodhouse is a highly respected man with wealth and power, back then in the 19th century, the only way to have power and wealth while still being respected was to be born in a rich and powerful family in the first place. Cher’s dad on the other hand, worked to earn his money and status, and he still holds power.

Apart from her parents, her governess, Miss Taylor/Mrs Weston, also fails to properly guide her as she sees Emma more as a campaign and, like her dad, perfect. In “Clueless” there is no character equal to ‘Mrs Weston’, but Cher’s best friend Dionne comes close. Even though she’s Cher’s best friend, she doesn’t guide her or tell her what to do, she just goes with Cher’s flow and just puts up with her like Mrs Weston, Heckerling shows the audience this in the scene where Cher claimed to have ‘totally paused’ at the stop sign. Also, by Heckerling casting an African-American to play as a wealthy character, it reflects on the flexibility of races in the 20th century social context. Heckerling also shows how popularity has become so important that the social structure has become very flexible. Climbing up the social ladder, which was very uncommon in the 19th century, has become a normal thing as a few scenes in “Clueless” shows that it is possible through intellect or beauty (wealth still contributes a big factor) to climb up the social ladder. These values are contrasted with Harriet/Tai being saved from gypsies/ the hooligans- only Tai rises up the social structure in “Clueless” while no-one reacts the Harriet’s incident with the gypsies in “Emma”, this shows the rigidness of Emma's society of how only money and marriage can make one rise up the hierarchy while in “Clueless”, being the most talked about will make you rise up the social ladder. Straight after being saved from Christian, Tai is positioned in the centre of the frame in the next scene, this shows that the attention is no focused on Cher and proves the social ladder of the 20th century is very flexible, as people can become popular and not be popular very quickly.

After leaving Dionne to argue with her boyfriend, Cher questions why her best friend is dating a high school boy before stating that high school boys are like dogs that slobbers and need constant care. This scene is a parallel to chapter 10 in “Emma” where Emma has a discussion with Harriet about her views of marriage. Heckerling has replaced marriage with dating in “Clueless” as 16 year olds in the 20th century don’t talk or concern themselves with marriage and this points out the values of the 20th century of teenagers believing that everyone should ‘pair up’. Heckerling has also changed the social context in “Clueless”, in the way where Cher is allowed to be around boys and go out without constant supervision, unlike Emma who has to walk with either a governess, an older and trust man, or a campaign. Cher is also being educated in a school, whereas back in the 19th century, weren’t allowed to do this. And in “Clueless” ,it is socially acceptable to be single or a homosexual in Cher’s world, but this is almost unheard and greatly disapproved of in Emma’s society of 19th century, England.

In “Clueless”, Heckerling explores the present views regarding marriage and the role of women, and also how these roles have changed dramatically since Austen's time. Heckerling shows that nowadays everyone has the freedom to determine their destiny and become whoever they wanted to be and marriage isn’t a crucial factor in what a person wanted to be, but in the 19th century, people (especially women who weren't in Emma's position of being single and being very wealthy and powerful) were forced to marry as it was the only to live a good life and be respected in their society. Cher’s dad, Mel, also shows that shows that being married in today's society is no different that being single, as he has power and emits a powerful aura, this is seen through the first establishing shot of him how there’s a back shot of him with his whole body filling most of the screen. This shows that he holds a large presence in this world, and his body language implies the same - he uses two hands to open the door showing he need to use the whole entrance. Heckerling uses Lucy’s reaction to show how fearsome he is. He also quotes ‘You divorce wives, not children!’, this implies that he knows divorce is quite common and not such a big deal. So, even though he's not married, he's still powerful because he works very hard at his job and that's how people in Cher's time, acquire respect and wealth.

The debating scene in “Clueless” enforces the fact that Cher/Emma knows nothing that goes on outside of ‘their world’. In this scene, we also see that Cher thinks her pointless and off-topic political speech about the Haitians is excellent, this idea is enforced by her confident facial expressions in a close-up shot. When we compare this scene with the scene in “Emma”, the lack of social charity seen when she insults Miss Bates, we can see Heckerling has transformed the value of charity not just between social classes, but different cultures. Just as Emma can’t realise the faintness in the differences between people of different social rank, which changes how they react to one another, Cher can’t perceive the subtle and complex political forces which prevent the Haitians from coming to America.

In “Emma”, Mr. Knightley is one of the few people who can see Emma’s faults and told them to her. Josh is the equal of Mr. Knightly in “Clueless” - he can find faults in Cher and tell it like it is to her without hesitation. Josh is similarly presented as Cher’s guide in the film as being only of the few characters with common sense in a world full of very superficial values, as he tells Cher jokingly, “If I ever saw you do anything which wasn't 90% selfish, I'd die of shock.”. Joshis presented as a nerd, instead of an ‘ideal’ social figure for a man (unlike Mr. Knightley). This show the changes in values from Austen's time to the present as Heckerling claims that there is no longer an ‘ideal’ person to be, as it is our personal morals which shape us as worthwhile individuals. We can see Josh’s watchful eyes on Cher during the Lucy scene, the camera pans across the kitchen to see Cher, undeliberate, insulting Lucy and then we see Josh already being there, like he's watching over Cher and trying to guide her, like Knightley to become a better person. Both Knightley and Josh are the catalyst for Emma's and Cher's change.

Cher quotes ‘…I feel impotent and out of control, which I really hate…’ when she couldn’t negotiate her grades with Mr Hall like the other teachers. Like Cher, Emma also hates being powerless and out of control. Heckerling has also shown a change in values when Cher needed to ‘find sanctuary in a place to regather her thoughts and replenish her strength’. The shopping mall was seen more of a sanctuary and a place to raise a person’s spirit, not a church. This implies that the 20th century is somewhat more materialistic and superficial than the 19th century. This scene enforces the idea that in the 20th century, Beverly hills was a world driven by commercial considerations and worshipful of materialism. In the modern setting, “Clueless” appropriately is dominated by images of the excess and overindulgent, a world driven by money and status. Essentially, it is like a smaller version of American society of that time.

Heckerling has transformed the first few pages of Emma successfully by using techniques (such as camera shots and angles, music, dialogue, etc) and taking in consideration how values have greatly changed in the period between the 19th and 20th century, especially the values of marriage, social structure and the role of women. Even though the values have changed, Heckerling shows us that there are still common things in the 20th century and Austen times, this is shown through the themes that Heckerling has inserted in opening of “Clueless” that are the same of the ones in “Emma” (themes such as - relationships, women, wealth, vanity and distortion of vision). Even though Heckerling has changed/altered a few thing to match the context setting, the story plot still seems to remain the same. Heckerling has successfully transformed the first few pages of Austen’s novel “Emma” to the opening scene of “Clueless” by changing the context so that it will have the same affect on the 20th century audience as “Emma” did with the 19th audience.