top of page

'Persuasion' Review: Life is an Ocean, Persuasion wants you to swim.

Persuasion. Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot in Persuasion. Cr. Nick Wall/Netflix © 2022

Written By: Riley Quinn Scott

Edited by: Isabella Vega

When you’re growing, summer exists as an interruption of your “real life” in the fall. You spend summer spending time. Your parents might’ve put you in camps, or shoved you out the door with orders to come home by dinner. Left to your own devices, you made friendships fit for a season, sought romance to occupy your mind. You wasted time. Then, mercifully, mournfully, the nights cool and the leaves bleed new hues. All at once school returns as if it never abandoned you, and rescues you from the task of occupying yourself. Little did I know that summer is our first taste of adult life. As a girl, barely 21, I hardly claim to know anything of life, or adulthood. I am in college, I am young. But since my high school graduation, life’s vast unpredictability has plagued me. Life demands we make so many choices, and each alters our existence. A straight-A student who hid in the margins of perfectionism, I yearned for a rule book for existence. My first year of college, I couldn’t quit the habit of asking my parents for advice, and would whisper-phone them late at night, praying no one could hear how I was spiraling in new-found freedom. My parents would reply “Its up to you, its your life.” I once asked my step-mother what my biggest flaw was, and she said it was my reliance on other people’s opinions.

Carrie Cracknell’s Persuasion, now streaming on Netflix, knows life is an ocean, (big, wild unpredictable) and urges you to swim, or perhaps just float. It's up to you. Jane Austen’s novels explored themes inherent to her time and ours: stories of perception, love, family, class. But Persuasion offers the female reader (now viewer) a revolutionary concept: choice. With no family to improve the social standing of, no dire financial or social circumstance to navigate, Persuasion tells us the unique tale of a woman choosing the life she wants to live. Yet, this is no easy decision. Free will can be terrifying: the gaping emptiness of an open field, or a blank page. A fork in the road.

Led by Dakota Johnson as our charming, severe Anne Elliot, the film reminds us how life (like summer) is full of love and self-discovery. And we’ll never see any of it coming. Anne breaks the 4th wall in this Austen adaptation, giving voice to her human, relatability as she navigates the pleasures and pain of encountering lost love again. This film is about second chances, yes, but more so about how we cannot anticipate how life will deliver us these chances. We can only wait and remain open.

Typical of Austen stories, Persuasion invites you on a wild ride of romance where characters don’t know the true nature of anything around them, and most tragically not the thoughts or desires of their beloved. Like us, they live and love in the unknown. A stand-out scene for me is Anne Elliot swimming in the ocean in her dress, despite being told to be careful, how the tide might suck her in. Anne lived for 8 years without love or risk, she lived for others by others: now she swims. Watching this film following an intelligent middle-child of a wealthy family decide whether to chase lost love or pursue a love more “fitting”, I nearly screamed GET UP AND GO AFTER HIM. (The “him” I obnoxiously refer to is of course Wentworth, played by the authentic Cosmo Jarvis. More than a few times Jarvis’s performance sent me into memories of my own Wentworth: of love lost, dark brown eyes and miscommunication…surely an emotional crisis is a sign of a good film.)

In the midst of summer and its lazy existentialism, Persuasion shook me awake. Cracknell invites us to make contact with our sense of wonder again. Summer forces us to meet our bodies, our desire: seeing myself for the first time in months in a bikini, smelling my sweat while driving home from work, noticing my wandering thoughts while napping in my bedroom. In the thick of this stench and lull, summer asks us what we want to do with this day? This life? Persuasion doesn’t want you to accept the idea your life will be a predetermined product molded for you by the opinions of others. Instead, amidst visions of Anne Elliot decidedly gliding into the ocean, running out mid-opera performance after the only man she has ever loved, allowing her long brown hair to gather twigs and leaves while playing on the forest floor, Persuasion presents another heroine to add to our growing list of women participating in life. Live life as a conversation.

Johnson, who is quickly becoming the TO-WATCH actor of the summer, throws herself into the thrills and dilemmas inherent in living as a modern-day woman, while still nurturing the longing child inside. We all have one, even you. Watching this film, the little girl in me came bubbling and gurgling to the surface, and cracked the cool-girl polish I have spent my whole life encasing myself in. Because we want to be loved. The film offers us many examples of untraditional love, from Lady Russell’s enjoyment of single life and European dalliances, to the unexpected match of…nope, won’t spoil that.

But in the end, this film is about acknowledging desires unique to yourself and following them. Captain Hareville, a memorable side-part played by Edward Bluemel, repeatedly reminds Anne how the universe has perfect timing. I can’t help but think this film comes at just the right time: to wake us and push us into the ocean, into summer. Who knows what the universe has in store?

Thank you to Netflix for providing us with an advanced screener of this film.

bottom of page