How Movies Support or Reject the Books They Are Based Upon

I think this is one of those issues that people love to argue about, and you either agree or disagree that movies help/ruin the books they try to portray. As someone who reads a great deal I have certainly seen many of my favorite books turned into movies. People tend to argue that movies lose an essential depth that we find in the books, and that is certainly true, but those people are like me and have read the book before seeing the movie. Not all people are passionate readers, so if those people like the movie adaptation, then decide to read the book, how is that so bad? Arguably, the visual aspect of the film can help accentuate parts of the book that might not have been clear. For people who tend to be more visual learners, books-turned-movies certainly have an appeal for that reason.

For that reason I am a bit on the fence on which side I associate with regarding this argument. If the movie makes people turn to the book then it has a powerful impact on those people who don’t read very often. It may open up entirely new windows they didn’t know existed. Certainly, I would rather people understand the power of literature without having to be hooked by the movie first, but the world is not designed in such a manner.

gatsby culture

Using The Great Gatsby that just came out as an example of a well done adaptation I saw people walking out the theatre saying that they would be interested in reading the book. There is a prime example of how the movie revitalizes the power of the novel. I think Fitzgerald is fantastic without the seemingly needed adaptations, but I’m also someone who has read more than just The Great Gatsby. One thing that this film adaptation did fantastically well was that they kept true to the final lines of the book:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

             The final moment that we are left with as readers or audience members is the most crucial moment within the entire piece, because it wraps together all of the loose strings that the author has been dealing with throughout the novel. Personally, if you mess up that last line in an adaptation I think the entire thing loses a great deal of its integrity. This Gatsby, although some of the dramatic writing across the screen was a bit much, really left you with a final feeling that encompassed the true feeling of the novel.

A bad example of a book turned movie (for those who think I’m being too soft) was the movie Cloud Atlas adapted from the novel of the same name written by David Mitchell. Now, granted Mitchell is a modernist in his writing, and even the novel takes more than one reading to come to semblance of understanding to the depth of his intention, and that should have been a red flag to the producers of the movie. The novel jumps time, space, reality, and gender to create the dramatic ending.

This was not a movie that you should have gone to without reading the book. If anything, coming out of that movie might have scared you away from the novel because it does not even begin to encompass the depth that Mitchell achieves in his writing. The movie left you with a feeling of slight understanding, but many questions.

cloud atlas book cover

The book? Catharsis. Pure and simple. I think I sat staring at the last sentence for about two minutes before I could think I was so moved by the power of those last words:

“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” 

Perhaps that’s something of what it means to be a passionate reader. I read books, eagerly awaiting that final line that will reveal to me something about my world and how I look at it. Sometimes movies miss that power, and sometimes they come close, but they never seem to fully grasp it.

So what side are you on? I have tried to be honest and look at both sides, but I will always think that people need to take that plunge into novels that make you cry, make you angry, and leave you feeling different from when you started. Such is the blessing of that overwhelming desire to read; because it feeds one’s soul.

Photo: The Great Gatsby. Courtesy of www.openculture.com.

Photo: Cloud Atlas. Courtesy of www.npr.org.

2 thoughts on “How Movies Support or Reject the Books They Are Based Upon

  1. Nice post. Personally, I can think of only two films that were as good as the books: “A Clockwork Orange” and “Apocalypse Now” (based on Heart of Darkness by Conrad).

    1. I haven’t had a chance to look at either of those. I’ll try and take a look at them. I have read “Heart of Darkness”, but I haven’t read “A Clockwork Orange” yet.

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