Oliver! Observation About Dodger

My girlfriend and I were watching Oliver! tonight and we noticed an adorable detail I wanted to share. It happens in the scene where Bill Sykes and Nancy have kidnapped Oliver away from his new guardian. Sykes becomes convinced Oliver has ratted about their criminal operations and decides to beat the confession out of him.

Notice how at 1:03 Dodger rushes in to get Oliver out of there as soon as Bill Sykes is distracted. Not only that, but from 2:13 you can see Dodger with his arm wrapped around Oliver, both as a gesture of comfort and protectiveness. It just shows how for all his burglaries and corruption by Fagin, Dodger had a good deal of compassion in him. The song he sings to Nancy earlier in the film, as well as the way he reacts in an a third scene when Sykes hits her are also proof of this. That’s how you write an interesting multi-dimensional character–he’s cool with burglary but violence is against his code.

It’s a little detail which inspires questions and makes Dodger more interesting. For example, nobody is born under Fagin’s care, which means Dodger had to come from somewhere else in his old life. Did he perhaps run away from abusive parents? Was he abandoned and saw a lot of violence on the street? Maybe he came from an orphanage just as abusive as Oliver’s? In any case, whatever physical brutality Dodger was exposed to clearly had an effect on him, so much so that he takes a protective stand against it where he can. I found that to be a very endearing moment in this adaptation.

I went into this in another blog post, but I love the Artful Dodger in general. With his ill-fitting suit jacket and top hat, he’s like a little kid whose hard life forced him to grow up before his time. You could read it as though he were trying to put on an air of sophistication which was totally unwarranted of his station in life. (Hence why the jacket and hat are mis-matched and weathered.) Personally, while the original character was already intriguing, I found Dickens’ actual characterization to be a bit too one-note and his punishment (penal colony in Australia) rather extreme. I’m hardly well-versed on every adaptation of the novel, but from what I have seen, Jack Wild is my favorite portrayal.


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