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The Golden Bowl

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The sophistication of the 1900’s was eloquently portrayed in the movie “The Golden Bowl”. Being in a time where art receives a new definition as well as the famous invention of new kinds of transportation, the film has captivated the scene of the past in a quite romantic but realistic manner. It was a story based on the novel of Henry James, carrying the same title “The Golden Bowl”, set in Italy, England and America focusing a clash of culture and traditions that the characters have experienced. The film conveyed the different dimensions of love with a reflection on the concept of utility, lust and adultery, covered by pretentions, innocence, naivety and denial.

The film centers on the idea of deceit and infidelity. It revolves around the affair of four main characters; the bankrupt prince Amerigo, who had an affair with Charlotte in the past, which was Maggie’s best friend, was married to Maggie Verner, daughter of the famous art collector and billionaire, Adam Verner, who in turn falls prey in the charms of Charlotte. The four had successfully live happily for about two years, until Maggie had discovered that her husband and her best friend turned mother-in-law were having an adulterous relationship.

The first part of the film has somehow provided the viewers with a clue about the plot upon the idea of the “Golden bowl” which was supposed to be a wedding present for Maggie. Amerigo and Charlotte were looking for the “perfect present” for the bride when they came across the “Golden bowl” in an antique shop. They would have bought it, if not with a nearly “invisible flaw” that Amerigo have noticed in the bowl. This nearly invisible flaw serves as a metaphor for the seemingly invisible imperfection that can be seen in their marriage. As Amerigo and Charlotte became closer, Maggie also became more and more drown towards her ideal husband which is her own father. This deepens the conflict upon Maggie’s denial of the fact and Adam’s playing innocent while their partners had been enjoying in each other’s arms.

Charlotte enjoys the things brought about by her marriage with Adam, while being close to her real lover, which was Amerigo. Amerigo also benefits from being married to Maggie along with his concern authentic concern for the lady; however it seems that he cannot escape the charm of his lover. Maggie and Adam, although they both displayed and act as if rejecting the reality, were also enjoying themselves with each other’s company.  Even though it seems that Maggie was happy in her marriage with Amerigo, it can be seen that she was still deeply concern and was still tied with the image of her father. Thus, it seems fairly to have a happy ending after all. However, the realization that this setup was just not right and the recognition that this kind of relationships were unacceptable for the society in which they belongs have gave way for the story to reach its climax with unavoidable confrontation, more deceit and denials.

The cinematography provides the proper suspense for the 1900’s theme with costumes portraying their status in the society. One can see how distinguish was the American suit of Adam and the outfit wore by Charlotte which tends to emphasize the gaps in their age and affinity. While the costumes wore by Maggie was more or less conservative, those wore by Charlotte were more frivolous and attractive. And while those suits wore by Adam seems to generate authority and respect, those wore by Amerigo were more casual and simple. I believe these were intentionally done to be able to emphasize the differences in the character’s identity as well as their role in the film.

The historical context that the film have been able to portray were the instances where with respect to what kinds of art were considered as art during that time and the idea of America coming from “Amerigo”.  On the other hand, the social values that was deeply portrayed concerns the relationship between father and daughter, the adultery that was the central story of the film and the way the society perceives this kind of relationship during those days.

Being aware that the 1900’s have been a period of innovations and transitions, it is not puzzling to have seen that there are conflicting ideologies, ideas and values that can happen especially when two cultures collide. It might be weird for our generation to witness in a movie those things that our generation has now regarded as acceptable were very offensive and distasteful.  As the movie came to an end, there had been compromises and acceptance that has to been done. The father and daughter have fight hard to save their marriages while manipulating the situation.  In the end, the two men have been successfully portrayed as “ideal husband” but not with their respective partners. Amerigo fits best to be Charlotte’s husband in the same sense that Adam seems to be the perfect man that Maggie had always look up to. Thus, the depiction of the “Golden Bowl” remains, not everything appears as it seems for even the most invisible flaw can destroy the seemingly perfect picture of happiness.


Merchant, I. (Producer), Ivory, J. (Director) & Jhabhala, R.P., (Writer). (2000).

The Goden Bowl [Motion picture]. United States: Lion Gate Films.

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