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Columnist Penelope Spurr on how film 'Little Women' empowers young people today

I wouldn't be surprised if I watched more movies during winter break than I had during the previous six months. I watched "Marriage Story" alone, and late. Nothing in the movie is extreme — the central relationship unravels slowly and plainly — and that is what makes it so heartbreaking. I probably cried my body weight in tears. Soon after I watched "Frozen II," and while I wasn't visibly changed, I was struck by its touching commentary on depression and emotional self-awareness. COURTESY - Spurr

Midway through the film, Anna is left to navigate a series of dark caves alone, and she takes the time to recognize the loneliness she's repressed since her parents' death. "The life I knew is over, the lights are out," she sings. "Hello, darkness, I'm ready to succumb / This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down."

I guess I hadn't exactly expected a psychological commentary from Disney, but there it was, sung by one of America's beloved princesses.

Some time later, I watched the Korean thriller "Parasite" with absolutely no prior knowledge of its plot or character development. It essentially embeds social commentary about wealth disparity in a Jordan Peele-esque plot — one family slowly kills another. The film was so nightmarish that my friend and I were nearly speechless as we left the theater.

In short: I watched a lot of emotionally cathartic movies that weren't relieving by any means. Then I watched "Little Women," the adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's Civil-War novel. The film follows four young women through their youth and adulthood, love and empathy, illness and death.

I'm not the most devout film buff, but I know that "Little Women" is worth holding tight.

Before watching, I knew that I was fond of Greta Gerwig's directing style. In "Lady Bird," Gerwig's plain portrayal of the ebbs and flows of adolescence is genuine, refreshingly accurate. This same authenticity permeates "Little Women," despite 100 years and 3000 miles of difference.

What I find most magnetic about "Little Women" — and a product of Gerwig's brilliant direction —is the way in which the film reveals raw humanity in its characters. In each of the Little Women, I recognized my own tendencies. And I know I'm not the only one who realized this; I'm sure other young women can pieces of themselves, too, in Jo's impulsivity, Amy's loneliness, Beth's reticence, Meg's envy.

The characters aren't perfect, but they're not tragically plagued by imperfection. Instead, their imperfection is what reveals their humanity. The four young women who allow us to vicariously recognize our brokenness ultimately help us to understand how we might heal.

Another of the film's capitating qualities is its oscillation between past and present, which Gerwig differentiates with visually warm and cool tones. Through inanimate features —geography, weather, costume —she is able to convey such profound emotion. Between its depictions of bitter winter and dreamy summer, the film's romanticism vividly contrasts the hurdles of childhood and adulthood.

The film's script is, in and of itself, magnificent. One particular minute of dialogue, in fact, cemented my affection: Jo (Saoirse Ronan) tells her mother Marmee (Laura Dern) that "Women have minds and they have souls as well as just hearts. They've got ambition and they've got talent as well as just beauty. I am so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I'm so sick of it! But—I am so lonely." It was heart-wrenching to hear Jo articulate what crosses the minds of many young women: how can we act selflessly without "annihilating ourselves"? Onscreen, Gerwig proves the timelessness of this conflicted introspection. Cool, dark tones of Jo's childhood home parallel her deprivation of emotional connection. Even the break in Ronan's voice is worthy of accolade.

"Little Women" brought me to tears, but its potent videography and script instilled in me a genuine sense of empowerment. The film is indelible; it's one that I hope young women and men will hold as tightly as I do.

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