The Importance of Being Earnest’ is used to represent a contradictory and hypocritical society. Oscar Wilde uses the text to reflect his own experience with an ignorant society; Oliver Parker does not replicate this in the 2002 film version of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ as he does not have the emotional influences that Wilde had. Therefore Parker does not produce an accurate representation of Wilde’s play; he only provides a comical historical representation of the milieu for a modern audience.
The director and writer both explore the themes of marriage, morality and gender equality however their interpretation and manifestation of the themes differ. The theme of marriage is represented in both versions of the text however the writer and director have different motivation for the demonstration of the theme. In Wilde’s version marriage is central to the plot and used as subject for constant debate whether it is for ‘business or pleasures’ which Algernon and Jack discuss in act one.
Through the use of Lady Bracknell and her prepared interview with Jack -to earn Gwendolen’s hand- Wilde demonstrates the expectations and rules for to be acceptable in a Victorian society, acceptability which can only be gained through marriage. The questions which include Lady Bracknell and thus society’s ideology that smoking is an adequate occupation not only displays how idiotic and superficial society is but also reveals Wilde’s own cynicism on the significance of marriage. Wilde’s disregard for the practise is shown through his personal life where his marriage failed but also in the play where not one happy marriage exists.
This is shown through the character of Lane who casually says he believes marriage “a very pleasant state,” before admitting that his own marriage, now ended, was the result of “a misunderstanding between myself and a young person. ” This omission of this quote and Lane’s views on marriage from Parker’s film version shows how the director fails Wilde’s writing. Parker uses marriage merely as an example of conformity in society, conformity which is demonstrated by Algernon shaving off his moustache to earn Cecily’s love.
Wilde also illustrates conformity through the importance place upon style, shown by Gwendolen’s comment in act three “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing. ” However Wilde specifically demonstrates marriage with more importance through (more about marriage) than conformity because of his personal opinions and experiences of marriage in the Victorian era in which he lived, unlike Parker who can only comment on the age from external sources.
The fact that Parker degrades marriage to an example rather than the crux of the plot shows how inadequate his representation of the text is as Wilde’s intentions fail to be represented. Morality is explored in both Wilde’s original text and Parker’s interpretation. Wilde comments that morality is merely another facade like Earnest to Jack and Bunbury to Algernon which are used by society to pretend to be something that it is not while reaping the benefits of both sides. Therefore society appears to be moral when it is truly immoral.
This is shown by Jack’s opinion that reading someone’s cigarette case is ‘ungentlemanly’ and he later comments “it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me? ” This demonstrates morality as pretence as lying is considered moral while reading is immoral. This principle radiates from his own homosexual relationship as Wilde acted on honestly to himself rather than living a lie and subsequently a life of unhappiness, thus not being immoral was considered morally wrong in itself.
This positions the audience to imagine how he was treated by the hypocritical society for acting morally. Parker represents society’s immorality and hypocrisy though the opening scene when Algernon is being chased through dark alley ways because of his debt, although initially it seems that through this he is being punished for his sin, the accompaniment of jovial music reassures the audience that that will not be the case and affirms the activity as one that is moral.
Additionally the director uses comedy to highlight how obviously moral rules were being broken even suggesting to a modern audience that society may have been aware of its own contradictory behaviour but continuing to ignoring it. It is shown in the final scene where Lady Bracknell observes that Jack’s real name is not Earnest, even though that was what he had told Gwendolen which Lady Bracknell completely disregards only to laugh and throw her arms up.
The exhibition of morality by Wilde and Parker share the belief immoral activity was ignored in the Victorian time. However Wilde came of this opinion from experiencing society’s reaction to his own ‘immoral’ actions and thus uses the theme to demonstrate a harsh and contradictory civilisation. Parker alters from Wilde’s contention by displaying that society was aware of it actions. Wilde and Parker both explore the notion of gender inequality, however despite this they differ on which gender holds the power.
Wilde’s view on gender equality is expressed by Jack in act 3 “Why should there be one law for men and another for women” this suggests that the roles are not equal and emanates from Wilde’s dealings with an unequal and hypocritical society where he was not allowed to love a male because of his gender. Wilde uses the female characters to demonstrate that women were more powerful than other works from this time would lead an audience to believe.
Lady Bracknell is a woman who although lives pleasantly as a result of her husband and marriage seems to be entirely in control of her marriage and everyone else around her. “… you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I … will inform you of the fact. ” Gwendolen and Cecily represent strong women who although are mainly concerned with appearance and the superficial do not bend to societal pressures of being the agreeable and complacent young woman.
This is shown through Gwendolen’s interaction between herself and her mother “I am engaged to Mr Worthing, mamma. Also by Cecily’s frank and sassy attitude when she talks to Algernon for the first time. Both women ultimately make their own choices about who they wish to marry displaying Wilde’s belief that women are more powerful than stereotypes would suggest and that they have the most power because they are permitted to love. However Parker juxtaposes Wilde’s belief through the use of additions and omissions to show that women simply act as they have supremacy which indicates a hypocritical society.
Gwendolen’s driving is an example of this as she appears in one scene as an authoritative person however in a following shot is overtaken by a cyclist. Parker adds the musical ‘Lady come down ‘to epitomise his ideology by demonstrating that women will do whatever the men wish regardless of their own ambitions, the music in the piece is whimsical which was deliberately chosen by the director to show the patronising behaviour toward Cecily and Gwendolen and in turn women in general.
Also the director employs Gwendolen and her costume to display women’s falsified power as she wears a high neck but underneath has a promiscuous tattoo on her bottom which again shows the women are not as they appear. Although Parker and Wilde both display gender inequality as another example of a contradictory and lying society Parker and Wilde’s opinions are opposite, therefore Parker inaccurately depicts Wilde’s intention. Wilde and Parker both explore marriage, morality and gender equality in their interpretations of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.
However Parker does not create an accurate depiction of Wilde’s work as he lacks the emotional connection that Wilde had, emotional history that moulded the text into more than just a historical representation for a silly society which Parker displayed. Wilde positions the audience to sympathise with him as he uses his work to hint at the difficulties he himself endured from an unequal and inconsistent society, while Parker makes his audience laugh at the idiocy of Victorian society.