Jane and Kimberly found Enola a young woman who talked to them, literally breaking the fourth wall of film, but also telling a story about being a girl who knew she was a misfit for society’s expectations of her and forged her visions – like they have – into a perfectly viable life plan.
KC: When we meet Enola, she is 16, and has been raised solely by her mother from a young age. Played by Helena Bonham Carter, her mother is the perfect archetype of a wild woman encapsulated in the historical role of a suffragette. Yet, Enola doesn’t know this. All she knows is that her mother has raised her in a blissful estate overgrown with nature, where she’s been encouraged to nurture curiosity, play, and her own true self. I mean, they play tennis inside and don’t blink an eye if a nose is busted from a valuable sculpture. They read voraciously, the classics, and they practice self-defense daily as a regular fitness practice. This mother and daughter are living and loving their lives of isolation. Yet, as Enola is about to turn into a woman, her mother vanishes. Prior to the vanishing, I was completely struck by the fact that these two were living in their hermit’s paradise with absolutely NO apologies.
JAS: That doesn’t mean her mother wasn’t aware of criticism. She’s been pulling the wool over her benefactor brother, Mycroft, for sixteen years. They have a deal that she has the house until Enola turns sixteen but she’s had to trick support money out of him to keep Enola out of finishing school, presumable paying for tutors. But let’s ask the real question because I agree. No apology for what? For being smart, for not being perfect, for being a complete failure at fitting into society, for being emotional, for how they think and feel, for being forthright, bossy, rejecting, physically aggressive, for fighting, breaking things, being a good combatant, being fit. Your turn.
KC: Yes, exactly. So, when mama disappears, Enola has a confidence of a girl more ready than she is to look for her mother in London, a city she’s never been to. She’s thrust for the first time into the “real world,” a place she must navigate on her own. But, of course as we find out, she has a lot of tools mama has prepared her with.
JAS: I think “mothering” is one of the strong themes of this film. By the time her mother disappears, Enola has already been privy to the secret meetings going on in her home with between her mother and other Suffragette women, yet she’s never asked what’s going on. Ha, but of course. Who needs to when your world is so much your own and you’re protected, nurtured to be so? Yet, when her brothers arrive – Mycroft (a stodgy, conservative government worker), of course, so obvious, but also the famous Sherlock Holmes who, by report of the housekeeper, she takes after – she has the feminine intuition to know that they are not looking out for her best interests.
KC: Right, Mycroft immediately wants to mold her, hiring an astute educator finishing school headmistress to help him transform her. He has good intentions, but they are all based on the ego that he’s become accustomed to as ruler of what is right and wrong. Sherlock on the other hand, finds a little pity for his dear little sis when he realizes that she has some of the same sleuthing smarts that have made his own life successful. The minute the new educator walks in, she tries to get Enola comfortable with wearing corsets with whale-bones that plump up the breasts as a way to inviting the “pleasures of the world.” Well, Enola understands they are not her own true pleasures when she loudly remarks, “I don’t want a husband.”
JAS: So she flees. She clearly doesn’t want to be “finished” for society. She discovers money her mother has left her and with her Holmes’ nose sniffs out a path to London. Even though she is still smarting from the pain of her mother’s abandonment, she wants to find her and she’s not afraid. Of course, she’s launched on her own journey.
KC: Yes, the HEROINE’S journey. We’ve been schooled for centuries in the HERO’S journey, the one in which a man takes on the world to discover his true self and purpose. But we aren’t used to seeing a young woman taking the realms to chart her own course through life.
JAS: And though the journeys are completely different, they’re both about overcoming inner fears and coming to peace with one’s own nature. We see the first difference when she encounters a handsome, charming but vulnerable Viscount on a train whose life is being threatened by an unknown perpetrator. Enola leaves him after rescuing him with a challenge to trust her or die as she screws her courage to the breaking point and follow her as she leaps from a train. Then, admitting to herself that she is worrying about him, lets feminine empathy reach out to help him as part of her journey. She discovers herself to be quite a detective with no erosion of her sense of individuality.
KC: I loved that he is a boy who likes herbs and flowers. In this, stereotypic masculine/feminine roles are reversed. Despite her mother’s version of feminism, and perhaps because such a strong woman paved her way, we watch Enola bloom into a woman who comes to term with the fact that she likes helping clueless souls such as his. Though she doesn’t quite know it, she’s actually following her true path as she helps him. But as you said earlier, her true path was fortified by her mother’s initial support, regardless of the shape it would take.
JAS: Enola charts her own course in spite of the men and conventional parental influences. We can see it in the way she reacts to challenges along the way. If she has to dress like a lady to be acceptable in London, she spends money to accomplish the appearance. Of course disguise is her guide, not compliance. When she hops off the wagon and leaves the Viscount to fend for himself in big city London, it’s not her welfare but his that prompts her to look at us, her observing conscience, and say reassuringly, “He will be okay”. It’s as if she’s informing us of her new vision, one in which damsels aren’t in the distress that distressed Viscounts are but that it’s not quite her duty to keep them safe. In fact, she’s going to have to rescue him more than once to ultimately launch him into the rescuing role of women he’s meant to play in England’s parliament.
KC: Yes, no matter of his charm will veer her from her solid path. She brings the feminine into her care for the Viscount yet she is not tied down by it. She parts ways with him to continue her own journey to find her mother. And along the way, she rediscovers the underground network of militant women from her youth who are building themselves up, ready to take on the patriarchy, ready to change the world. The skills that her mother taught her, specifically in self-defense, allow her to escape all kinds of atrocities that “pretty little women” would traditionally join the realm of the forgotten for facing. She learns, that like her brother Sherlock, she is a remarkable solver, and she also learns something about finding your own way and the parameters that each of us come to accept in the process of knowing who we ultimately are.
JAS: And of course, in staying true to herself and her path, firm in her instinctive directives, she ends up getting it all in the end anyway. Her mother’s hug brings the HEROINE’s journey full circle. Enola is, after pursuing a path of perils and decisions particularly feminine in nature, ready to be a woman and take her place in a society that’s made way for her.
KC: As she helps the Viscount solve the corruption in his family and is well on his way to changing his country, reunites with her mother on an adult woman to woman level, and manages to convert her stewardship from Mycroft to Sherlock, her own individuation and freedom are things she is capable of claiming on her own without permission, we wait for a new story to unfold.