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  • Writer's pictureAtomicRakshasi

Great Expectations (1998): The Narc and the Incel have Their day

You’re in a tizzy. Submissions are due and life generally sucks, but you have no time to think about that.

It’s 1998. You depend on music to push you through. You read stories to hold together a crumbling sense of self. Those feels. You’ll never get those again, not with the same gut-wrenching intensity. At a weekend screening of Great Expections, you hear a classmate, a nice boy by any standards, mutter “bitch” under his breath from the row below.

Didn’t he watch a bitter old woman manipulate a little girl into distancing herself from any intimacy, into viewing every relationship as a transaction? Did he not see a young boy imprison himself in a tangle of twisted seductions and rejections? Methinks it doesn’t matter to him. It’s a chick flick after all and all women are the same, but the unattainable ones are especially loathsome.

The soundtrack blazed through the girl’s hostel ranks. The shrill silvery tones of the perpetually eccentric Tori Amos, “You know you’re going to lie to you in your own way,” plays through the halls. The song is Siren: the deed, the lie, the seduction, the fragility of this girl of “teenage flesh” who “reaches high” but this “doesn’t mean she’s holy”. “Coquette”, drama queen, half cold, part seductress, unable to tell the lie from her true self.

Life in Mono plays next in soft lilting tones of love found, love lost and regrets and memories. Sunshower by Chris Cornell shows up after the gap; gloriously gloomy and powerfully melancholic (the perfect song). “Dark as roses and fine as sand/ Feel your healing and your sting again.” The lyrics, part wistful, occasionally worshipful, weep and smile in an ode to sadness: “On forgotten graves you cry”.

“How ever can I follow, all the words that you borrow?” we screech along to the next song, visualising an enormous crush on an enormously pretentious yet irresistible narcissist. It seems more than apt and imprints on you; Resignation is written by a jewel of a band and the discovery of their outrageous talent shakes you into a sense of ownership (they’re mine, mine and no one else’s). “Feel the blades of grass/How it brings you back,” croons Duncan Sheik in Wishful Thinking, “It will always be/Only as green/As you can see.” The devastating realisation of “So much/Wasted time” is an ode to life’s great regrets and epiphanies.

Her Ornament introduces us to the powerful hoarseness of Brian Vander Ark’s voice (I’m still in love with it). “I prefer to watch the mud break off her heels and turn into cement/ I just want to be her exploitation and abbreviation/I just want to be her ornament.” He’s not fit to touch the hem of her garment, so he’ll settle for anything.

Poor Pip; blueballed, humiliated, fighting to raise himself to be worthy of Estella, demeaning his preciously tender soul in the process. He’s the anti-incel because he’s entirely self-aware. From the book, Pip’s overwhelming sense of guilt and hurt is almost contagious:

Dissatisfied, and uncomfortable, and—what would it signify to me, being coarse and common, if nobody had told me so! […] how could I, a poor dazed village lad, avoid that wonderful inconsistency into which the best and wisest of men fall every day?

Uncle John’s Band, a charming acoustic ditty played by The Grateful Dead, reminds me of Joe, the wisest of all. I love Joe. I love his kindness and his complete lack of guile. He’s the childlike gentle giant who forgives Pip for his hungry imagination as he desperately tries to unshackle himself from his increasingly disagreeable situation.

I’ve seen the lesser version of this story play out in front of me. I watched both of the main characters play out their resentments and scornfulness like centuries-old theatre. Different versions of it play out all over the world on a loop.

The ending could have been less romantic, had the original ending of the book stuck to its premise, and the main sentiments worth drawing from this story remained a more platonic empathy and of course, forgiveness—Dickens told us this back in 1861, reaching above festering ideologies and unconscious grandiosities, above the narc and the incel.


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