Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This film is an adaptation of a Tracy Chevalier novel which is essentially a historical romance, a fanciful conjecture about the mysterious young woman who inspired Jan Vermeer's famous painting of the same name.

In this version of the story, the unknown girl in the painting was a smart and beautiful peasant girl who came into Vermeer's household as a servant, caught his attention, became indispensable to him in his studio, and eventually became a subject of his painting. The film captures an unconsummated erotic tension between Vermeer (Colin Firth) and the girl (Scarlett Johansson), an attraction which does not escape the notice of Vermeer's wife. The situation comes to a boil when Vermeer's pragmatic mother-in-law, aware of the need to sell paintings to pay the bills, borrows her daughter's pearl earrings to loan to the servant girl, thus enabling the young woman to pose for the famous painting.

Vermeer's wife finds out that her servant has been wearing her earrings, and ....

 ... well, you can get the rest from the film.

The film presumes that Jan Vermeer created his photographic level of detail and perspective by using a camera obscura, a device which was a forerunner of the modern camera. The most recent scientific analysis of his painting supports this theory. This link gives a very detailed examination of the issue. I was surprised to find out from the article that Vermeer and Leeuwenhoek (inventor of the microscope) were born a month apart in the same small town, where they both spent much of their lives. The scientific case for Vermeer's use of a camera obscura hinges on the geometry of his images, and not on the immediate availability of expertise on lenses, but it is interesting to note that the single guy in the world who knew the most about lenses lived so close to Vermeer. (For the record, there is no evidence that the two men ever met.)

This is essentially an art film, all suggestion and intimation. Its saving graces are the subtle construction of the erotic tension, and the masterful cinematography.



I was astounded to discover that director Peter Webber has never made a theatrical release before, and has never worked as a cinematographer (he came through the ranks as a film editor). Given those circumstances, one must give a very deferential tip of the hat to cinematographer Eduardo Serra, who made every frame of this film look like a Vermeer painting.

These pictures tell the story:

The bottom image to the left is Vermeer's Woman With a Water Jug (1664 or 1665). The image just above it is Johannson in the movie.

Directly above these paragraphs is a side-by-side juxtaposition of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) and Johansson posing for that painting in the film.

The screenplay suggests that the same girl was the model for both paintings, but there is no evidence to support that supposition, and there is the contradictory evidence that Vermeer called one a woman and one a girl. I'm sure the writers were aware that the case for this was weak, but it does make for a pretty good story.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

  • No box office information available. Don't expect much. It will be released in a few theaters to establish Oscar eligibility, then get some level of general distribution on Jan 9th, 2004.
At this point, no home media information is available
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. Good movie, but intended for a small, appreciative, highbrow audience.

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