03 July 2006

Books As Movies. The New No.

Add two more to the list of books I've read whose movies I want to see because the book was so good (also because I do. not. learn):

Running With Scissors
The Time Traveler's Wife

They don't have any casting for the Time Traveler's Wife, but one of the imdb boards claims this movie is coming out in May 2007, and it's being directed by Gus Van Sant, so it has some promise -- or could be a major let down. Someone else recommended that we watch the Lake House while we wait for this movie. I don't like to agree with people who say blanketed inane statements like that ("Oh, hey, you liked this love story? Go see this chick flick that's kind of like it but not really. At all."), but I did think about The Time Traveler's Wife when I saw the previews for the Lake House. That's not to say it was particular to that movie though. I found it happening any time I heard about time travel or distance via time (the Machinist, for instance, gave me the same feeling, just because of the cut sequences). So anyone who doubts this movie can be well made because of the spliced time istn't remembering how successful it can be to a story (the Godfather II, anyone? If you watch it on TV, it's cut so that you see Vito's story, then Michael's story. It's so much better on DVD where the stories are spliced together. Or movies like Memento, where you see the past in snippets. It can work).

The reason I haven't learned, though, is because of my experience with many many great-books-turned-into-craptastic-movies: The Count of Monte Cristo, Vanity Fair, and my most recent disappointment, Everything Is Illuminated (which was the only one of the three that was actually a good movie on its own, but had very little to do with the book; just enough to distress me). The biggest thing about the movie Everything Is Illuminated that bothered me was the story altering portrayal of Alex's grandfather as a Jew, and subsequently, his flagrantly unnecessary suicide! The suicide does happen in the book, only after Alex's grandfather explains his story to Alex -- in one of the most excruciating parts in the book, Alex's grandfather recounts his betrayal of his Jewish friend, Herschel, and his justification for handing Herschel over to the Nazis. It's heart-breaking but, in a cruel human way, we end up understanding. Both book and movie are about the uncertainty and questions that bury 2nd and 3rd generation survivors, but they tell the story from two different ends of the spectrum -- and while the cast and setting were terrific, the movie script droped the ball where the book is wildly successful. The beauty of the book is that we finally understand, simply, that there are no easy answers -- that ultimately, the choices the characters have to make; the choices they had to live with, make their lives a big agonizing question. Making Alex's grandfather Jewish is a cheat because it simplifies his moral dilemma. Instead of living with the guilt of what he has done, he lives with the guilt of abandoning his faith -- which, as the movie shows, can be easily reclaimed. This change is what makes grandfather's suicide nonsensical. How do you redeem yourself after you've betrayed someone you love? How do you reclaim your youth or your innocence? How can you undo what you've done? These are the kinds of questions the book poses: the ones that cannot really be answered. The movie tries to provide some answers, but they only cheapen the journey. If you're going to read the book, watch the movie first. That seems to appease some people, although I then question their love of reading, because there's no way you can like them both tremendously, if you think about how the moive is less successful in all the wrong ways.

Anyway, like I said, Van Sant can either be wildly successful with the Time Traveler's Wife, or wildly WRONG. I am an eternal optimist. I think it can be done well, and I hope that Van Sant can be the guy to do it.

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