No Expectations

John Haber
in New York City

The Real Last Exit from Brooklyn

Recently Hollywood remade Great Expectations, with the plot, shall we say, tastefully updated for glamorous New York City. It got such horrible reviews and so little box office that I'd forgotten it existed.

Now, to be honest, you may not remember David Lean's movie classic very well either, but I read the book in high school, and it was a best-seller. I feel certain that I can create a more successful update.


Gentrification at Work (Photo by Lizzie Himmel, 1985)

  Pip, in disguise, basks in his great expectations.

To parallel Pip's origins in the book, we have to start not too far from Manhattan, but out of things, where plastic Jesus comes out for Christmas. We need to be near a prison, so make it Astoria, to get closer to Riker's Island and to the drop-off for released prisoners in Queens Plaza, at the entrance to the 59th Street Bridge. Magwitch finds Pip on the way to LaGuardia Airport, for a hoped-for escape on the shuttle. Pip has slipped away from his sister to catch porn movies at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Miss Havisham lives within walking distance, but a very long walk or maybe a jog. Estella has to be smart, attractive, shallow, and arrogant. So I suggest that Miss Havisham have a big co-op as one of the first gentrifiers of Williamsburg, and Estella is an artist, all of whom are smart, attractive, shallow, and arrogant. I'm calling the flick Before Sunset Park.

In the novel, Miss Havisham's estate contains a spooky abandoned brewery, the source of her fortune. There are plenty of spooky abandoned factories in Brooklyn, at least one selling designer lampshades, so that's no problem. One on North 8th Street, in fact, is called Wonder Foods. I think they made the kind of food in school cafeterias, where you say, "I wonder what that is supposed to be?"

Pip is sent to Manhattan at last to get an education in the financial sector. In the previous remake, Ethan Hawke plays an artist, and Francesco Clemente painted his work. How 1980s.

Estella has moved to a quieter portion of city, another long walk for our hero. In the book the big city is made out to be rather less glamorous than Gwyneth Paltrow would like. So Pip works on Sixth Avenue in midtown, the bleakest and priciest blocks in town, and she lives on the Upper West Side, with the highest brunch-per-capita ratio. He is looked after discretely by Jaggers, a lawyer with a compulsive habit of washing his hands while cackling at the long lines outside the women's bathroom.

Magwitch, on escaping the second time, made his fortune somewhere incredibly remote, unsophisticated, and full of unearned wealth—obviously L.A., where he sold the rights to an adaptation of this very story. (The self-reference will have us compared to Charlie Kaufman.)

Magwitch comes back to New York and is collared at last, this time for corporate crime. Unlike in the book, this means he can't go to jail for more than a day. Sadly, however, he loses all his wealth, except for his private jet and stock options, but he gets coverage on Extra! and moves to Washington as a lobbyist.

After losing his "great expectations" (do keep that line, for the smart crowd), Pip is forced to find some colonies to exploit. Since the British colonies lapsed long ago, and since Halliburton already owns Iraq, that means dealing drugs in the Bronx, real estate in Harlem, or art in the Meatpacking District. I'd let you know, but these things are notoriously hard to document.

In the afterward, Pip marries Estella and converts Miss Havisham's estate into a brewpub, and Estella markets Miss Havisham's wedding dress worn by a stuffed goat as art. As the novelist says, there will never be the shadow of another parting—except in the sequel.

And the prequel.

What would Jacques Lacan think of this? Wouldn't you like to know?

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