Friday, February 18, 2011

The Book is Always Better Than the Movie.

It seems to me that almost any good movie I've seen recently has been based off a novel. You know, True Grit, 127 Hours, The Social Network, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. All classics, and all based off novels. So, as blasphemous as this may seem, I'm here to debunk a myth for you, specifically, the idea that every good bibliophile has that the book is always better than the movie. It's unlikely that a subpar novel can spark the concept for a brilliant film, but I believe a brilliant novel can be the impetus to an equally brilliant film. That's right, I said it. I may not be a film buff, but I am an adaptation and retelling buff, and I'm here to tell you something: the book is usually better than the movie, but sometimes they're equally awesome. Here are my favorite five examples (which are also five more novels on my favorites list):

Atonement, Ian McEwan
Atonement (2007)
Nothing as singular or as important had happened since the day of his birth. She returned his gaze, struck by the sense of her own transformation, and overwhelmed by the beauty in a face which a lifetime's habit had taught her to ignore. She whispered his name with the deliberation of a child trying out the distinct sounds. When he replied with her name, it sounded like a new word - the syllables remained the same, the meaning was different. Finally he spoke the three simple words that no amount of bad art or bad faith can ever quite cheapen. She repeated them, with exactly the same emphasis on the second word, as if she had been the one to say them first. He had no religious belief, but it was impossible not to think of an invisible presence or witness in the room, and that these words spoken aloud were like signatures on an unseen contract.
God only knows how this got misinterpreted.
This is a film and a novel whose pacing matches exactly. They did things that always annoy me—like changing the color of a character's hair or putting them in a black dress when the novel specifically says blue and things like that (filmmakers, HOW HARD IS IT TO USE DETAILS?)—they even changed the end. But they didn't annoy me here. Atonement is a novel about how a skewed perception can wreck people's lives and the film captures that perfectly, right down to my favorite part of the film where a young girl discovers a love letter with a dirty word and each letter is punched out in the audience's face as her eye's widen and the background noise of a typewriter spells out C-U-N...well, you get the idea. Two different eyes read that letter in two different ways, but it leads to library sex so I know how I'm reading it. I promise, with all my dirty sex comments, it's really a beautiful and haunting piece of fiction and film.

Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
Fight Club (1999)
I've met God across his long walnut desk with his diplomas hanging on the wall behind him, and God asks me, "Why?" Why did I cause so much pain? Didn't I realize that each of us is a sacred, unique snowflake of special unique specialness? Can't I see how we're all manifestations of love? I look at God behind his desk, taking notes on a pad, but God's got this all wrong. We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens. And God says, "No, that's not right." Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can't teach God anything.
I suddenly feel very, very dirty. Is it still a crude joke
if you're not kidding?
The first rule of Fight Club may be you don't talk about Fight Club, but fuck it, because both this book and this novel are amazing. Mother of God, read them in any order you want—both are told in little snap shots of chapters, of scenes that end in a plot twist you won't see coming the first time (maybe that was just me, because my God, Brad Pitt has never been more attractive than he is covered in blood in that movie, which may be revealing about me as a person in a terrible way, but eh?) And the ending of the film? Holy Jesus, that's a scene. Palahniuk actually said he liked the film's ending better. Getting a writer to say something like that is like hearing a cat talk. Unsettling and then it hits you how amazing it is. That's what both Fight Club the novel and film are—a talking cat that makes me inarticulately call on deities.

Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Never love a wild thing...He was always lugging home wild things. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was a full-grown bobcat with a broken leg. But you can't give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they're strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That's how you'll end up...If you let yourself love a wild thing. You'll end up looking at the sky.
I'm getting very close to this being the reality of my adult life.
Everyone knows the iconic Audrey Hepburn picture: the epitome of class, the woman every girl wants to be, but no man is attracted to (who said that first, hmmm?) However, did you know the character of Holly Golightly is actually based off Truman Capote's relationship with Marilyn Monroe? But here's the deal, this is a case where the 1960s film industry took a daring book and turned in into an awesome movie with a stereotypical ending. So maybe they changed some of the sexual orientations of the characters around to make it a bit more Hollywood-friendly, the movie is still a fantastic piece of cinema with a romantic story and a charming, elegant female lead. I love this movie, it's everything a little girl could dream to be (except maybe the oddities left over from the book: call girl, old man husband, involved with the mob, though, those were always my dreams.) If you want to love the movie, make sure to watch it first, because if you read that amazing novel full of humor and wit and evocative subjects, the film will fall flat as toned-down trash. Of course, the end result is that no matter how she's described in the book, Holly Golightly is still Audrey Hepburn to me. Whatever, I'll live up to those call girl standards one day.

Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
Revolutionary Road (2008)
I still had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere…people who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work out the way they wanted without even trying, who never had to make the best of a bad job because it never occurred to them to do anything less than perfectly the first time. Sort of heroic super-people, all of them beautiful and witty and calm and kind, and I always imagined that when I did find them I’d suddenly know that I belonged among them, that I was one of them, that I’d been meant to be one of them all along…
This is one of those adaptations that you just feel like you're watching the book. I'm sure there were differences, but the fact remains that the tone has been kept and that the feeling, the nuances that made the book great remain and resonant with the images. A sense of enclosure permeates both, oddly, yet not at all oddly surrounded by the sense of suburban paradise. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll mostly be terribly upset and cry, but this is both a novel and a film that manage to get at the trapped in suburbia vein without feeling stale. And oh my God, do I love the crazy guy that comes in. I'm not even going to describe it, it's just too much. Just go ahead, you can practically read along.

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
But, brothers, this biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don't go into the cause of goodness, so why the other shop? If lewdies are good that's because they like it, and I wouldn't ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop. And I was patronizing the other shop. More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines? I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do.
Worst Got Milk? campaign. Ever.
As stunning as the novel is, you kind of start reading it thinking, “Burgess is fucking with us all, isn't he?” because the entire novel is written is this crazy-awesome-I-wish-I-had-the-balls-to-make-up-my-own-language language called Nadsat which is a mixture of English and Russian, apparently. It's transporting and a fucking pain in the ass to read the first time. And this is where the film steps in—this dystopian novel is pretty ridiculously graphic and violent, and the film takes it in stride, presenting you with the more disturbing images in a sometimes hilarious, but always upfront (or as upfront as possible) way. But the thing is, it makes everything a hell of a lot clearer and you can go back to the novel with something in mind. Something disgusting, terrible, and awesome in mind. Full of penis shaped rainbow lollipops, bowler hats, weird eye makeup Ke$ha stole, canes, phallic statues, cats, the destruction of thousands of dollars of camera equipment, naked woman in oddly futuristic garb, Mozart, and of course, a man being turned into an automaton while his eyelids are forced open. How are you not already watching this while simultaneously reading this insane novel? It is weird where weird is so good it's become normal.
Go. Read. Watch. Now.
P.S. Just realized this post title was my myspace name for awhile early on in high school. Judge me.

P.P.S. What the fuck is wrong with the text at the end of this post? I really, really can't fix it. Judge me again. Only this time, harder.
Images stolen brazenly from here, here, here, here, and here.

1 comment:

  1. I really can't tell you how true this is. I BLEED Fight Club the novel, and everyone is like "What a good movie!" and I'm just like "hey, screw you--it sucks my weenis." Yes, the skin on my elbow, weenis. I didn't commit a typo.