The Miniaturist, Part II: In Which None of Your Questions are Answered

Oh dear. All that promise, and…this was the ending? Ok, let’s break it down:

So, yes, Marin is pregnant, which complicates things at a time when things really don’t need to be more complicated. But when Johannes is captured, Nella tries to spin this as a good thing, suggesting they might be able to pass this kid off as her baby, which would prove that her husband totally isn’t gay! I’m not sure how she thinks that’ll work, especially considering the trial starts immediately, she’s only been married four months, and the baby’s at least two months away from a due date. Also, Marin’s not interested in that deal, so it’s a no-go.

The ladies have something of a heart-to-heart and Marin confesses that it wasn’t Johannes who turned down Frans all those years ago, it was Marin herself. Her brother was just covering for her by taking the blame. She had a lot of independence as mistress of her brother’s house, and she wasn’t willing to give all of that up.

Nella secretly visits Johannes in jail to try and bolster his spirits, and attends the first day of his trial. Johannes does a good job defending himself against the totally false charges of rape, but he either can’t or won’t (probably a bit of both) deny that he and Jack had a relationship. During the trial, Nella notices Agnes playing with something, and afterwards she finds a doll that very strongly resembles herself stashed under Agnes’s chair.

Nella confronts Frans with the doll, and he has a bit of a fit over Agnes’s own doll’s house, which he says is a curse on their marriage, so much so that he burned it. Harsh, man. Nella begs him to withdraw the charges against her husband, pulling out the big guns by revealing Marin’s rejection, in the hope of undoing Frans’s enmity against Johannes. Nothing doing, and really, even if he did withdraw the charge, it seems like it’d be a bit too late. Things have been said. And the court has Jack ready to testify.

Here’s a question: why the hell does Agnes have a doll of Nella? What’s the deal there? I hope you’re not too keen on having that answered, because it NEVER IS.

Nella visits the warehouse and notes that they have a LOT of sugar to move. She’s not quite sure what to do here (I thought Johannes gave her some contacts? Maybe they won’t have anything to do with them now he’s been captured), but then a collection of baked goods at the doll’s house reminds her of a bakery she visited with Cornelia shortly after her arrival. She goes back there, grabs the proprietors, shows them the sugar, and offers to do a deal. At first they’re hesitant, because they’re bakers, not sugar brokers, but this is a good deal, so they agree to take some and see what they can do with it. The sugar is so great they’re able to sell it almost right away, so it looks like it’ll be ok. Hurrah! The sale does not, however, appease Frans, because Frans will not be appeased. Still, it’s nice to see Nella really coming into her own as a no-nonsense businesswoman here.

Marin goes into labour early, and gives birth to a girl whom we are not allowed to see. The show makes such a big deal of this, I immediately went, ‘Oh, the baby’s black, right?’ I don’t know, maybe it’s because I saw Versailles or something, but I twigged to the whole thing right off, which made it feel a bit ridiculous that it was treated as a big reveal about ten scenes later. Yes, the baby is black. Otto was Marin’s lover.

Unfortunately, Marin does not get to enjoy motherhood. She’s not doing so well in the aftermath of the birth. Nella has to get back to Johannes’s trial, so she tells Cornelia to find a midwife who can help Marin and pay the woman whatever she has to, while she goes and takes care of business.

She’s a bit late to trial day 2, because childbirth and all, so she misses Agnes’s testimony, but she does get to see Frans’s and Jack’s, and it’s fairly damning. Johannes, who’s clearly been beaten and has had his head shaved in the last day, continues to defend himself, pointing out that greed and hypocrisy are almost certainly feeding this craziness. They always do, right?

Nella returns home and discovers that Marin did not survive. The midwife/wet nurse couldn’t do anything for her, and then only agrees to nurse a half-black baby at an extortionate fee. Nella’s basically like, ‘Whatever, the baby needs to eat, and I have bigger problems.’

She goes to the local church to inform the minister that Marin has died. He’s like, ‘Well, she was a good, pious woman. Shame about the brother. Oh, I hope you weren’t hoping to have her buried here?’ She most certainly did hope, and she stands her ground, refusing to take no for an answer, so the guy finally offers her a tiny spot in the back corner of the church. She takes it, and orders up the best wood for the coffin.

Time for the verdict. Johannes is found innocent of the rape charge, but guilty of sodomy, which means he’ll be executed.

On the way out of the courtroom, Nella spots the Miniaturist and pursues her back to her hidden workshop, to get some answers already. There, she finds a map of Amsterdam spread out on a table, with little piles of parcels here and there. Seems this lady has quite a few clients.

The woman seems frightened, even moreso when Nella asks what the hell is going on and how she knows all these things about her household. The Miniaturist bleats that people always think she has some sort of second sight or whatever, but she’s just really observant. She made the Marin doll pregnant because she noticed that the woman started waddling more than walking. And when Marin ordered a cradle that looked just like the one the Miniaturist had made, well, that was just because of the power of suggestion: Marin saw the mini cradle and liked it enough to order one just like it (also: that cradle’s design was fairly common for that place and time. That’s just me pointing that out). This does not, however, explain how the woman knew about the chair that’s in Nella’s room, or the broken cup or the wound that apparently appeared on the miniature of Johannes’s dog. Nella asks specifically about the dog miniature, and the woman’s response is, ‘Well, yeah, sometimes I do see things that haven’t happened yet.’ Lady, you JUST SAID there was no magic to this. Which is it?

And seriously? Magic? That’s our answer? She ‘just knows’ things? I still have so many other questions I want answered. Why did she continue to send the miniatures, even when she was specifically instructed not to? Does she do that with everyone? Why? How is she funding that? Especially since she clearly uses top-notch supplies (she admits that the cone of sugar the Agnes doll is holding is made of real sugar, which is why it went mouldy, just like the sugar in the warehouse. She used an incredibly expensive, rare commodity in a doll!) Why is she hiding away in this garret? Whatever happened to the letter Nella sent the man who trained this woman, asking what the woman’s deal is? Did she ever get a response? What’s with all the cryptic notes, which seemed like they were adding up to something, but then… didn’t? Seriously, WHAT THE HELL? You can’t explain all these things away with ‘eh, magic.’

But guess what! If you’re the type of person who wants some answers, too bad! You get none! And that’s when this whole story lost me. I hope, hope, hope this is all handled less sloppily in the book, but at this point, I may never find out, because I don’t really want to read the book anymore. This was just…stupid.

Nella visits Johannes one last time and is unable to tell him his sister is dead. Probably better that way. Afterward, she attends the execution. He’s taken to the waterfront, and a millstone is tied around his neck. It’s pushed into the water, and a moment later there’s a second splash, and he’s gone.

Nella turns away and sees Otto standing there. They embrace, to comfort each other, and she takes him home to meet his daughter. While he cuddles the baby, she receives one last gift from the Miniaturist: a doll of the infant. She and the woman exchange one last look, and then Nella goes into her husband’s office, gives herself a little pep talk, and prepares to get to work.

I hate it when something I really want to like turns into a total disappointment. Well, maybe that’s a bit strong, because there is a lot to like in this adaptation. The first half of it is pretty tense, it’s wonderfully acted, and gorgeously shot. Nearly every single shot is framed, lit, and composed to look like a painting by a Dutch master:

The first and last ones especially scream ‘Vermeer!’ He did a whole slew of paintings of women standing in front of sunlit windows.

And the costumes! Let’s talk about the costumes, because this is me, and I love talking¬†about what the clothes are saying. And Nella’s costumes have a LOT to say.

Only two women in this story actually wear colour: Nella and the Miniaturist. The Miniaturist exclusively dresses in a blue dress and a blue velvet cloak, both of which serve to set her apart from her surroundings. And Nella’s costumes, for a while, serve a similar purpose. At her family home, and when she first arrives at Johannes’s house, Nella is dressed like this:

 

Bright, simple, plain, practical, showing a fair bit of skin, which underlines both her vulnerability and the fact that she’s been brought here to be put on sex-object display. The colours tie her to her family members, but not so much to her surroundings in Amsterdam.

Since her purpose is to be an object of admiration, she’s dressed up like an extravagant doll, once she arrives in Amsterdam:

Nothing about these clothes say ‘I belong here, with these people.’ Nobody else is dressed even remotely the same: just look at her in that church. The only time she remotely seems to be tied to another person is the two dinner party scenes, when her costume rather closely matches her husband’s:

There’s a good reason for that: the point is to make a show of the fact that these two are a pair. Nope, no gay man to see here! Look at how sympatico he is with his wife!

But there is a gay man to see here, and as soon as Nella realises what’s been going on, her clothing changes drastically:

No more delicate lace and frippery. No more exposed bosoms. No more startling pastels. Ever her outerwear is significantly toned down. This is a more sober woman, a woman who has work to do, and notice how much more she matches the surroundings of the house, now she’s made a declaration that this is her home and she’s determined to stick with it. Look at how closely the warm earth tones of her gown tie her both to Johannes and his firelit study.

And speaking of being tied to your surroundings:

You guys: she matches the wrappers on the sugar. The sugar that was refined in Amsterdam, naturally. The good sugar.

And we end with her having found her place, both professionally and sartorially:

That is the face of a woman ready to do business. She’s still, unusually for the characters in this film, wearing a colour, but it’s a strong, sober, businesslike colour. It’s fairly unadorned, but she’s dressed it up with that rather extravagant necklace. I think this is the first time we’ve seen her in a necklace. It’s beautiful, and not only indicates that she’s a woman of means, but suggests that she’s going to be just fine, going forward. She can do this. Go Nella. Go do this!



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