Monday, February 11, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Book to Film Adaptations

Talking about the adaptation of books to film has got to be one of the subjects that's been talked to death but it's been on my mind recently. I read Anna Karenina last year and saw the movie and I ended up really liking the movie as well. And I've been trying to figure out why...I mean I knew going in that there was no way the film could be true to every plot point, but it was fairly faithful to the thematic heart of the story it told, so in my eyes it was a good adaptation.

Then I read Silver Linings Playbook and watched the movie and I really ended up not liking the movie very much. I thought maybe it was because I read the book too close to the time I watched the movie, but I really don't think that's it, the distance was probably similar to Anna Karenina. I think the reason that I didn't like the film as much as the book is because it felt like it took the names of the characters and some of their basic situations and rearranged them to tell a story that was similar superficially but lacking the same thematic core of the book. The movie felt very unsubtle and also well...cheesy Hollywood in a way that surprises me it got so many Oscar nominations!

If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, you may not want to read on because I want to discuss the things that bothered me specifically. I am open to discussion on this of course.

I feel like the book Silver Linings Playbook is about how reality, even in its imperfection, is not so bad and that life is still worth living even if it doesn't live up to the ideal we've created in our mind. One of the ways Matthew Quick accomplishes this is by introducing Pat who has been in a mental hospital for a couple of years. Pat has lost a sense of time, though, and thinks it's only been a short while. (in the movie they just go ahead and actually make it a short while) Additionally, Pat has no memory of what he did. So you sort of get these hints as you're reading that there's way more to this story, but Pat himself is not yet ready to face them. So you know he has this dread of Kenny G but you don't know why. And it works as a powerful metaphor about how we lie to ourselves.

It really surprised me that in the film all this is done away with, Pat was only away for a short time and fully remembers what he did. Also in the book he does not stalk Nikki! He doesn't try to contact her really at all, he believes they are in apart time and that eventually that will be over when he's improved himself enough. The only contact he ever believes he has with her is through the letters Tiffany supposedly sends. And that's something that goes on for a little while they are practicing for the dance. Which, by the way, there is no bet on or anything, ugh. And it actually takes him awhile to get over Tiffany lying to him which is much more realistic, in the movie, I was like, huh?

I don't know I just felt the book was a much more delicate handling of everything. His therapist wasn't so horrible, he actually felt quite safe with him and their relationship in the book is so adorable. You see how people with mental illnesses feel about things and how the people around them feel and it's possible to understand how everyone feels and still feel kind of sad about it. And in the book the Eagles is literally the only thing that brings him and his father closer together, his father wouldn't even talk to him when he first got home. (in the movie, his father does talk to him so in order to understand the Eagles thing he actually has to say a line explaining, "that's what this whole Eagles thing is about" which made me almost groan. You're doing it wrong if you have to explain it!)

And there were a lot of other changes. I realize I sound like I'm nitpicking, but it's really interesting to me to think about. I think the changes for the most part made the movie lose the same heart the book had. It felt very empty to me. And it made me realize that the Oscars having two categories for screenplays is only about separating purely original content from content that comes from another source. Because it could never win best adapted screenplay if it was actually about the adaptation itself.

Anyway, reading this review of Anna Karenina helped clarify this thinking for me. It's not about getting details the same at all, it's about the movie conveying the same feeling the book did, and unfortunately Silver Linings Playbook just didn't do that for me. On the other hand, most people seem to really love the movie so perhaps without having read the book it comes closer.


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