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Taylor Phillips Dr. Anne Morey ENGL 356 September 24, 2013 Oliver Who?

A Search for Characterization in Oliver Twist Roman Polanskis Oliver Twist is a radical interpretation of Dickens classic novel with very large repercussions in plot development and narrative structure. In an attempt to put his own take on the story, Polanskis film removes many subplots from the original narrative. In turn, the lack of these subplots lead to completely different plot structures and character developments throughout the film. Specifically, Polanskis film forces Oliver to become a vacant and objectified foil whose only purpose is to reflect and develop every surrounding character except his own. The abrupt beginning of Polanskis Oliver Twist highlights the objectification of Oliver through his toils in the workhouse. The opening credits cover one of Gustave Gors steel engravings, depicting what appears to be a woman in a vast English countryside with a possible storm on the horizon. This is the only allusion to Olivers origin that Polanski will allow; the film quickly moves to the workhouse and its abysmal environment for the parish children. Thus Olivers objectification begins: the vast mise-en-scne of the children unwinding rope illustrates the corrupt usage of the poor as free labor. To the workhouse, Oliver is a mere mouth to feed and body to use; without any kind of background or prologue (as found in the novel), the focus of the film centers on the workhouse instead of Oliver himself. Thus Oliver becomes a self-effacing, mirror-like reflection of those around him, highlighting the cruelty of the parish owners and Mr. Bumble.

Phillips 2 As he becomes Mr. Sowerberrys apprentice, Olivers objectification continues without any hint of his character development. Mr. Sowerberry quickly realizes that he can take advantage over Olivers somber countenance and make money off of him as a funeral mute. At this point in the film, it is almost completely in sync with the novel; both plots aim to emphasize the poor conditions that Oliver faces as he trudges on from home to home. However, Polanskis lack of subplot development between Noah Claypole and Charlotte take the various facets of the novel and focus it all upon Oliver in the film. Even with this spotlight of attention, Olivers character continues to reflect the character of those around him rather than develop his own. Even the outburst against Noah Claypole appears more to be a direct reflection of how rotten the people are around him because the viewer has no previous connection with the mention of Olivers mother. Without the follow-up on Noah and Charlotte, the viewer is left with a brief bitter impression upon the entire Sowerberry gang as they treat Oliver like a cheap commodity. As Oliver escapes and begins his journey to London, the film leaves Mr. Sowerberry and his household completely behind both cinematically and narratively. Once in London, Polanskis chance of developing Olivers character is taken away by the introduction of Fagin as he immediately objectifies the orphan. These scenes of the film depict Oliver being pushed, prodded, led, and manipulated to do the will of Fagin and his cohorts. Without the mystery of an origin story for Oliver, the viewer is left to simply wonder how much more trouble Oliver can fall into. Without the subplot between Fagin and Monks, Fagins characterization stems directly from his treatment of Oliver. The viewer can clearly see through his attempts to help Oliver as he feeds and teaches him how to be a thief. Once again, instead of the narrative revolving around the title character, it is instead developing those around him via character reflection. This is especially evident at the end of the film; Fagins last night is the

Phillips 3 most personal development of character the viewer sees during the entire film. As Oliver cries out for God to save Fagin, the emotion is evoked for Fagin himself instead of Oliver. Oliver displays the reflection of Fagins corruption because Oliver himself has no origin or characterization. When Oliver finally catches a break and gets saved by Mr. Brownlow, the lack of subplot forces the narrative to focus on those around Oliver rather than Oliver himself. The entire novel of Oliver Twist is driven by the mystery of Olivers past and who he really is; in the film, there is no past for Oliver and there is no origin. Without a picture of his mother to see at Mr. Brownlows, the viewer has no grasp on Olivers character and instead focuses on what Brownlow wants to do with him. This objectification is exemplified when Mr. Brownlow dresses up Oliver in a brand new suit and asks him about wanting to be a scholar and a writer. Without Olivers origin, the narrative turns into a story about what Mr. Brownlow wants Oliver to become. Even though Mr. Brownlow may have good intentions, Oliver is only a reflection of Mr. Brownlows character rather than a developed character himself. Mr. Brownlow is going to turn him into an upper class, educated young man. This may be a great thing, but ultimately the film doesnt allow Oliver to have his own story and character as he does in the novel. Bill Sikes objectification of Oliver is the ultimate character reflection that Oliver offers in the entire film; however, the lack of subplot development leaves Oliver characterless and Sikes characterful. The badness of Sikes is only understood through the way he treats those around him. Given this, his treatment of Oliver allows the viewer to gain insight on just how cruel of a character Sikes is. A prime example of this is when Sikes forces Oliver to help him rob Mr. Brownlows house; Sikes sees Oliver as a mere tool to get what he wants and by doing so greater develops his character as a villain. There is a crucial rift here between novel and film: the

Phillips 4 film chooses to ignore the Maylie, Monks, and Bumble/Corney subplots altogether. As a narrative, this streamlines the story into one seamless thread that comes out a bit too perfectly at the end. By having Oliver get dragged back to the thieves den, Sikes character is further developed (via his plot to get rid of Oliver) and the story gets ready for its climax. Without the revelation of Olivers identity, the ultimate climax of the narrative becomes the death of Sikes; once again the focus of the film is on different characters than the title role. Polanski manages to wrap up Oliver Twist succinctly, but in doing so misses complex portions of the story via lack of subplot development. This lack of development shifts Oliver from having an original and central role to being a mirror-like character reflection of those around him. Polanskis plot development forces Oliver to surrender to the will of those around him and sacrifice his own character emergence.