Thursday, August 1, 2013

East of Eden (1981)

    Sadie and I finally finished watching East of Eden yesterday.

   It was amazing.

   First, before I begin, I should relay the entire story behind our watching this miniseries. It all started several years ago, when we were at the library and I pulled this miniseries off the shelf and drew it to the attention to my sister, saying "Look! It's Dr. Quinn, 20 years younger." However, it must not have struck my fancy, because after that I forgot about it for several years.
  The next encounter was when we discovered that one of Sadie's friends whom she skates with was doing her program to the music (which is utterly gorgeous), and we were like, "Hey, that's the miniseries that has Jane Seymour in it."  Then we started listening to the music, and we thought, well, it has such a beautiful soundtrack, and it has Jane Seymour in must be good, so why don't we watch it? : P
  We actually started watching it last summer, but it was so awful that we didn't bother watching very much and kind of pronounced it "trash", as Mattie Ross would say. Because, uh, it kind of is. More on that later. We did buy the soundtrack last fall and have listened to it a great deal, but we didn't really want anything to do with the miniseries.
  However, since it is an American classic, and since it does have Jane Seymour in it, and since we are older than we were last year and thought we might get more out of it this time, we decided to try it again.

   And it was amazing.

  First of all, you don't have to be a Jane Seymour fan to really enjoy- or shall I say, appreciate- this miniseries. In fact, it would probably be easier to watch it if you were not a Jane Seymour fan, because Cathy is so much worse than any character I have ever seen Jane Seymour play that it's really terribly difficult to watch. She's worse than almost any character I've ever seen, in fact. According to John Steinbeck, she's a monster. And I guess he would know, after all. : P

 Another thing I ought to mention is that the entire theme of East of Eden is pretty mature, to say the least. One of the biggest themes is prostitution, and since it is such a big part of the story it's pretty much impossible to avoid it. If I were to rate this miniseries, I'd rate it PG-13 simply for thematic elements, it's that prominent. However, there are good things about the story too, and I think that all around it is definitely worth watching and I do recommend it, but only if you know what you're in for. I watched it with my sister who is 12, and we skipped some things, but I definitely would not recommend it to anyone under that age, and if you do have some kind of filter that would definitely be a good idea.

    (Note: Due to the fact that Google has practically no pictures at all from this miniseries, this review is basically picture-less. Sorry!)

 East of Eden begins in Connecticut right after the Civil War, with the family of Cyrus Trask (also known as the Trashk family) and his two sons, Adam and Charles. The main theme of the entire story is the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, because Adam and Charles' relationship with each other and with their father is much the same as Cain and Abel's. Later, Adam's sons Cal and Aron have a similar disposition, only Cal and Aron were not so violent and I enjoyed their story much better. Cyrus Trask fought in the Civil War and leads everyone to believe he is a war hero, but after he dies his sons realize that he was dishonest and was not the war hero that he always said he was. He always pretended to be such a good friend of Abraham Lincoln, but in reality he never knew him. As Adam said, "President Lincoln never had a dog named Rover. Just thought you might like to know that."

Seriously, the only picture I could find. That is, the only appropriate picture I could find.
  Cathy was horrible. Completely and utterly and absolutely horrible. Throughout the the entire thing I tried to find some bit of goodness in her, but there is simply none to be found. From the time she was a little girl she was just plain evil, and she only got worse. In the novel John Steinbeck literally says that Cathy is a monster, and I'm not sure exactly what he means by that- she did look like a monster when she bit Sam Hamilton's hand!- but metaphorically speaking, that is a good way to put it. She certainly doesn't seem human. Cathy is by far the worst part of the story. Adam marries her because he is taken by her beauty and charm and is blind to who she really is, and then when she leaves him after the twins are born, he realizes that she was never the woman he thought she was, and later when he goes to see her in Monterey he learns that she deceived him and the twins, Cal and Aron, were really not his at all, but they were actually Charles'.
  From the time Cathy was a little girl, it was plain that she was...different, is a nice way of putting it. And her parents were pretty much oblivious to what she actually did, except her father, who wasn't stupid (like her mother) and figured out eventually that she was not as innocent as she seemed. Cathy's entire life was just miserable, but the thing was, it was no one's fault but her own. I really don't know what was wrong with her, but she was obviously extremely disturbed. As I said, it was very difficult to watch Jane Seymour play such a heartless character. She was worse than any villain I've ever seen- yes, even worse than Rigaud and Alec D'Urberville- because it really seemed as though she had no heart.
 Cathy got to looking really scary when she grew older- when Cal went to see her she had arthritis in her hands and her makeup looked kind of like Edward Scissorhands. (Yeah, the makeup wasn't that great- she didn't really look old, she just looked like Edward Scissorhands. Adam, on the other hand, actually looked old and you would never know it was only makeup. But anyways.)

  The character development of Adam Trask was pretty much genius on John Steinbeck's part. At first he was the meek older brother, afraid of his angry younger brother and always trying to please his disagreeable father. Then when he joined the cavalry changed a great deal, and he seemed to get really....weird. It was like he was a completely different person than before. Then, when he moved to California and met Sam Hamilton and Lee and after Cathy left, he became a much more sensible, realistic, wiser man than he ever was before, and I thought the development of his character was nothing short of genius. I wasn't too terribly fond of Adam during the first half (but then, I wasn't too terribly fond of anyone....), but by the end I respected him and, yes, I had grown very fond of him. And the last scene.....oohhh!!!!

   Charles is just mean. I do not like him at all. The end.

  I enjoyed the story of Cal and Aron much better than that of Adam and Charles. I also found it kind of funny that Timothy Bottoms, who plays Adam, played father to his own brother, Sam Bottoms, who plays Cal.
  I never really liked Aron, I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because he was supposed to be so good and he wanted to be a minister and all and he talked about his "higher calling", and yet he always seemed grumpy and was usually complaining and didn't seem like he wanted to do the Lord's work at all. That could very well have been why I didn't like him. Cal, on the other hand, despite being naughty and wild and temperamental and a bunch of other things....was adorable. I don't know why, but he was. He didn't mean to be so bad- he said himself that he didn't want to do bad things, he just did- and he really did have a good heart, he was just confused a lot of the time. He was also a whole lot smarter than Aron, and even though he often got himself into trouble, he really did love his father and brother and valued their happiness above his own.

   I'm not too terribly fond of Abra. She was alright, I suppose, but she seemed a little...whiny. Although I haven't read the book yet, I've skimmed through parts of it and it seems like she's even more whiny in the book than in the miniseries. Also, I didn't find Karen Allen pretty at all, which of course is not the most important thing, but I think for that character the actress should have been at least somewhat pretty.
  I could see it coming from early on that she would end up with Cal. She and Aron just didn't seem to love each other- like Abra said, it was all kind of a childhood story between them that could never work out. I wasn't thrilled that she and Cal ended up together, but it wasn't as though I really disliked Abra, she was just a bit of a diva.

  One of my favourite characters is Samuel Hamilton. Lloyd Bridges is and will always be Ben Geyser, but Sam Hamilton was the first "nice" character to enter the story, and he was really a good friend to
Adam throughout the hard times, especially after Cathy shot Adam and left. The scene when he came to the Trask house and yelled at Adam for not having named his boys yet was a little far-fetched- I mean, of course Adam should have named his children by that time, but was it really necessary to punch him and curse at him like that?- but overall I really liked his character. I also thought it kind of sudden when he died, because we didn't really know that he was sick until Lee said so, and then in the next scene (which was actually two years later, even though it seemed like the next day,) he was dead, and the audience is thinking, how come we didn't see that coming?

  And then there is Lee...What would Adam have done without Lee? In a way, Lee (does he have a last name???) was the foundation of the entire story. He stuck with Adam when Cathy left and he had given up all hope, he was the voice of reason when their business venture failed, he lent Cal the money to begin his partnership with Will Hamilton. He was so much more than a cook- he was a true friend, and Adam could not have found a better one. At first he seemed kind of....weird, which he is, but he's also very wise and I grew to like him very much. I was rather surprised how not many people seemed to make fun of him because he was Chinese (except for Cathy), because in Kung Fu (oh, here we go...) lots of people make fun of Caine and they make it look like almost everyone back then was racist-- but then, that's Kung Fu.....and East of Eden was after the time of Kung Fu and lots of things had obviously changed. But anyway, I liked Lee very much and I seriously don't know what Adam would have done without him.

   I personally liked the second half of the miniseries, when Adam and his sons and Lee were living in Salinas, much better than the first half when Adam and Charles were always quarrelling and acting stupid and beating up each other and Cathy was working for Jules Edwards. One thing that did bother me, though: whatever happened to Charles? I thought it rather strange that he was such a main character during the first half and then when Adam and Cathy moved to California he was forgotten and never heard from again. Not that he was missed by anyone, but still!
   The costumes were pretty impressive....for an '80s miniseries, that is. : P Cathy's dresses were actually quite beautiful, and Abra's 1910s style dresses were very pretty as well. I loved Cal and Aron's knickers and sweaters, partly because they reminded me of John-boy and because I just really like that time period for men's fashions. The only character whose costumes didn't look the period was Sam Hamilton. His clothes looked like they were from the 1980s, not the 1880s. Because they were. : P But other than that, the costumes were very satisfactory.

  The only thing I didn't like about the end was that Cathy didn't die. I know that must sound HORRIBLE of me, but I think that it would have been so much better if she had died, and right before she died she could have repented to Adam and Cal and and asked them to forgive her for all the horrible things she had done....but it wasn't to be. I guess that would have been just too good to be true, because by the end Cathy was just as horrible and out of her mind as she ever had been. As my sister Sadie said, if she's still alive, she can still do much more harm! I wasn't expecting her to get that much better, but I still would have liked a bit more closure.

    And of course I must mention the soundtrack, which is absolutely beautiful. The score is written by composer Lee Holdridge, who isn't really very well known but is very talented just the same. The soundtrack that my sister and I bought actually has several different movie themes composed by Lee Holdridge on it, and some of them are rather pretty, but none are so beautiful as East of Eden! I've always loved the music ever since I heard it, but I love it even more now that I've seen the miniseries and know the story because now it's that much more meaningful.
   The last scene....oohhhhh my goodness. It was utterly epic. If you can't make it through the entire thing, just watch the last scene. Actually, no, don't, because without having seen the entire story unfold, it wouldn't be nearly as meaningful. That's the thing about East of Eden: some parts are boring, some parts are downright awful, but you have to know the whole story to fully appreciate it- the good, the bad and the ugly. I haven't read the book yet, even though I own it- my dear Mama bought it at a book sale for 75 cents, probably because she thought I would get a kick out of it (and I did)- but now that I know the story I think I'll probably read through it in a week or less. East of Eden is what you would call sprawling. It spans from the Civil War to World War I- that's more than fifty years, people, in one novel. John Steinbeck said that all of his other novels were practice for East of Eden, and I can see why. I can see why it's such a classic. I can also see why I hated it at first, but oh my goodness, I am so glad I watched the whole thing!



  1. Wow! I saw the '55 version with James Dean in it long ago, and I see now that it very much abridged the story. One of these days, I'll have to either read the book or see this version, eh?

  2. Uh! I thought I had commented! I guess I missed the the code thingy, so it didn't publish it, sorry :) Anyway, I most certainly will never watch that, I heard that it was bad, but that this bad, uh! I could imagine! I have recently watched a couple really not-so-well-made movies, and this sounds very much like one I watched. Oh my Jane Seymour sounds horrible! I have seen a couple things here and there about it, but it's nice to get an actual review! I really enjoy knowing how movies are, I am really liking all these reviews!


  3. Hamlette,
    Yes, I've heard (from Jane Seymour herself, actually) that the old version only covered the last third of the story, while this one starts at the very beginning and covers the entire novel. I haven't read the book yet either, but I want to very soon!
    I hope I didn't give you the wrong impression- East of Eden really is an amazing story and this miniseries is VERY well-made, it's just a bit rough a times. I would only recommend it to a mature audience, but it really is very good. And Jane Seymour actually did do an amazing job, it was just that her character was so horrible. So it really isn't as bad as you may have heard!

  4. I was rather surprised how not many people seemed to make fun of him because he was Chinese (except for Cathy), because in Kung Fu (oh, here we go...) lots of people make fun of Caine and they make it look like almost everyone back then was racist-- but then, that's Kung Fu.....and East of Eden was after the time of Kung Fu and lots of things had obviously changed.

    Unfortunately, things had not changed. The racism continued. I suspect that the miniseries' screenwriter simply didn't bother to delve into the racism that Asians encountered at that time.

  5. Rosie P,
    Thank you for explaining to me, that does make much more sense. I suppose they didn't make racism much of an issue because it didn't have anything to do with the story. Thanks for your comment!

    ~Emma Jane


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