Film On Adaptation
posted by December 7 at 10:42 AMon
There is this idea out there, commonly espoused by precocious high school students and other irritating people, that a movie can ruin a book. Ruin it! Suck the joy out of it! Forevermore block the successful transmission of text from the page to your mind.
I’m newly annoyed because I just read Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly using her review of Atonement as an opportunity to bash Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice all over again. (Here’s her review of Pride & Prejudice, in which she disses Jane Austen, of all people. By the way, Ms. Taylor, Austen’s greatest achievement was in narrative technique—flexible focalization freeing characters’ thoughts from the inconvenience of direct report—not genre. Anyway. Here’s my review for comparison.) Look. Pride and Prejudice is invincible. Its place in the literary canon is assured; its place in cultural history is undisputed. It’s been adapted into plenty of fine and terrible films, and for the theater many times over. A new film version cannot touch it. What a new film version can do is interpret—offer a new reading that sends you scurrying to see if its assertions are justified. It’s fun to see films struggle against their source material, not horrifying.
No matter how bad Joe Wright’s Atonement might have been (and it isn’t bad at all—here’s my review), Ian McEwan’s novel can take it. The book may not be as famous—or as good—as Pride and Prejudice, but its words still stick to the printed page. Who cares if a bad film is made of a good book?
Is Gabriel García Márquez forever tarnished by the new Love in the Time of Cholera?
I just don’t believe it. People who complain about movies ruining books have only their own weak imaginations to blame.