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Books-Into-Movie Commentary – “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” February 10, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in books compared to movies, books into movies, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, literary commentary, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”—movie release date January 20, 2012 (limited, December 25, 2011)—is based on the novel, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close written by Jonathan Safran Foer. After reading Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, I suspected this would be one of the more challenging Books-Into-Movies posts I would take on. The story of the mysterious key is relatively simple, along with the phone messages from Oskar’s father, Thomas. But the book is infused with tangents and diversions, and exotic storytelling techniques, providing a lot of eccentric details. The story does not unfold in a conventional linear way as it bounces from first-person accounts set in different time periods—from Oskar, and from both his grandparents. The film-makers needed to make choices to create an accessible story for audiences (and they did just that, though hints of the time-bouncing are still evident in the film). So I’ll start with some big-issue generalizations comparing the book to the movie, then offer some discussions of details as they struck me. Two comments before I begin: 1) There are a lot of details and I may miss a favorite of someone reading this. Please feel free to remedy that with a comment. 2) I have tried hard to be accurate with these details, but with this book, there is a chance I will miss something. I invite sharp-eyed reader comments on that as well.

First, the basic story of the key was retained nearly detail-for-detail from the book. In the book, Abby Black calls Oskar back some time after he visited her, saying she wasn’t completely honest, that she didn’t know about the key but that her ex-husband might. Oskar does not discover her with the phone number from a newspaper clipping.  The scene between Oskar Schell and William Black is mostly detail-for-detail from the book, including much of the dialogue. Differences: Oskar does not run off screaming at the end of their meeting. And there is no reconciliation between Abby and William Black. Also, I don’t recall any reference to an alcohol drink for William Black at their meeting. And, as in the book, the movie does not tell us what was in William Black’s safety deposit box. Frankly, as a reader and audience-member, I wanted to know!

Second, the storyline of the heartbreaking phone messages is also preserved from the book. That includes Thomas calling specifically for his son that last time, knowing his wife was not there because he had previously spoken to her on her cell-phone. In the book, Thomas tells his wife/Oskar’s mother that he is out of the building—she knows it’s not true, that he just made it up so she wouldn’t worry—and she believes he knows she knows. “Are you there” over and over is directly from the book.

Third, the filmmakers omitted a huge storyline from the book (time certainly was a limiting factor) involving the strange, quirky relationship between Oskar’s paternal grandparents. They both provide extensive first person narratives written in their own distinctive styles. We do get some of the grandfather—the not-speaking, the tattooed “YES” and “NO” on his hands are straight from the book. But many other details are omitted, and others changed. I’ll address more of this as I look at some of the details in the movie. The grandmother’s back-story is completely left out. Here, I’ll give only a rough outline of their back-story, inviting readers to buy and read the book if they want more. Both Oskar’s grandparents lived through the Allied bombing of Dresden during World War II. (There is also a clip of an interview transcript with a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing right after the grandmother’s account of her husband leaving her, a scene apparently intended to connect war victims.) Both were traumatized by their experience at Dresden. Oskar’s grandfather is so traumatized that he is literally afraid to live. He leaves his young wife before Thomas is born, afraid to be a father. He writes endless, voluminous letters to his child, letters he never sends. (In the book, they receive a peculiar fate that I’ll address later in his post.) Oskar’s grandfather only returns after Thomas’s death on Nine-Eleven, and is also referred to as “the Renter” as in the book.

That completes the larger comparisons. Next, I’ll look at some details:

  • Oskar does indeed offer all sorts of unusual, imaginative ideas in the book, like having everyone swallow microphones so people can hear each other’s heartbeats.
  • Oskar’s business card, listing all his activities—straight from the book.
  • Thomas Schell’s coffin is empty in the book is well. Oskar is taken with the idea of filling it with something, but he’s not sure what. “The Renter” has the answer. He tells Oskar he had a son, now dead. Oskar asks how “the Renter’s” son died, but “the Renter” answers he lost his son before he died. At this point Oskar does not know for certain “the Renter” is his grandfather. The narrative implies that he makes the connection at some point after experiencing the events he is describing. “The Renter” wants to bury all his undelivered letters to his now deceased son. So, with some assistance, they dig up Thomas Schell’s coffin and do just that.
  • Walkie-talkie communications between Oskar and his grandmother are from the book.
  • In the book, Thomas Schell tells his son the story of the “Sixth Borough.” In the movie, this becomes a quest for Oskar. In the book, Thomas gives Oskar a number of puzzles to solve. So the movie combines the “Sixth Borough” fairytale with the puzzle-solving aspect of their relationship.
  • Oskar certainly sees the search for the lock to fit the key as an extension of his relationship with his father. In the resolution scene with William Black in the book, he wants the explanation to take as long as possible. I do not recall the detail about the sun exploding, then taking eight minutes to reach the earth. But this idea is consistent with Oskar’s character and approach to events in the book.
  • The newspaper article with “not stop looking” circled is straight from the book.
  • Oscar counts lies and tells laughable lies to explain why he is missing school in the book as well as in the movie.
  • There is a slight reference to Stephen Hawking and his book A Brief History of Time in the movie. In the book, Oscar writes Hawking over and over, wanting to be his protégé. He receives polite form letter responses until nearly the end of the book when he receives a long personal response from Hawking inviting Oskar to join him for a few days inCambridge. This happens right after Oskar finds William Black.
  • I do not recall any scene in the book with Oscar and his father at swings in the park. (Readers, let me know if you saw this somewhere in narrative or images.)
  • Oscar plotting the contacts with every Black in the phonebook is straight from the book.
  • I simply don’t recall any reference to Asberger’s syndrome tests in this book. I scoured the book for this, and just did not see it. At the end of the book, after Oscar returns from filling his father’s coffin with “the Renters” letters, Oskar begs not to be hospitalized. His mother assures him she finds nothing wrong with him. As in the movie, she tells him his father would have been proud of him. Readers, again, if anyone knows of a specific reference to Asberger’s (not some drawn implication, which personally I don’t find convincing), please add a comment.
  • In the book, “the Renter”/Oskar’s grandfather does not go with Oskar to find any of the Blacks. One of the Blacks contacted by Oskar joins his search for awhile, getting him to use public transportation, even the Staten Island Ferry at one point. He leaves the search when he joins with a woman, another Black, who has been living up in the Empire State Building. We do find out later that Oskar’s grandfather has surreptitiously followed him and his elderly Mr. Black companion. Filmmakers clearly made a choice to combine these characters to save the time of introducing and developing another storyline, and to allow some exposition for the grandfather’s character.
  • In the book, Oskar does say to his mother “if I could have chosen, I would have chosen you.” There’s no tantrum associated with this. Oskar’s mother silently walks away. Oskar goes to her and tries to take it back. She tells him he can’t take something like that back. Oskar asks if she’s angry. She tells him no, she’s hurt.
  • I do not recall any sores or self-mutilation for Oskar in the book. Readers?
  • “Heavy boots” is a clever phrase used in the book frequently, also used in the movie, a great phrase for personal baggage, for fears—but really seeming to convey more than just that.
  • In the book, Oskar’s mother has a new romantic interest (a year after Nine-Eleven), Ron, a man she has met in a grief-counseling group. It is this relationship and her laughing with him that has Oskar confused. But she says, as in the movie, that she will never love anyone the way she loved Oskar’s father.
  • Oskar concludes that his mother has known all along where he is going during his quest to solve the mystery of the key. (This is not confirmed one way or the other.)
  • Imagining events in reverse, in the book, is a construction of Oskar’s grandmother. She applies this idea to traumatic events of her life, and eventually to everything. She takes the idea back to Noah’sArk, with the rain returning to the clouds in the animals leaving the ark. Oskar picks this up at the end of the book and the movie. In the movie, it is a drawn diagram activated by a string his mother pulls when she goes through Oskar’s journal of his quest for the lock that fits the key. In the book, we are given a series of images of a body falling from theWorldTradeCentertowers. When the pages are flipped, the body rises back into the building.
  • The movie ends more sentimentally than the book. In the book, there are no thank you letters, with many of the Blacks who were part of Oskar’s quest coming to terms with some loss of their own. The final moment of the book is that series of images, flipped so the falling body rises back up.

2012 – Personal Notes: What I’m Offering This Year at this Blog, and Elsewhere January 1, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Ayn Jalut, Baybars, books compared to movies, books into movies, fusion jazz, historical fiction, Hulegu Khan, Issa, Issa Legend, Mamluks, medieval period, Middle Ages, Mongols, movies based on books, mystic jazz, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, the crusades, The Swords of Faith, third crusade, writers.
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What to Expect at this Blog Over the Coming Year

  • Two continuing series: (1) The 820th anniversary posts commenting on key moments in the Third Crusade (the confrontation between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin during the late Twelfth Century) will continue up to October of this year when the series will end with a post commemorating the 820th anniversary of the end of the Third Crusade. Of course, this series springs from The Swords of Faith, my award-winning novel that tells the story of this event through the eyes of Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, and two fictional characters. (2) At the first of every month, I’ll offer a full-length selection from my Issa Music CD, just released this week. The music was inspired by the “Legend of Issa,” the story of Jesus making a journey to India while forming his spiritual vision. If true, this suggests a spiritual connection between East and West that goes back two thousand years. The music celebrates the idea of East blending harmoniously with West.
  • Books-Into-Movies will continue; these posts are among the most popular at my blog resulting in thousands of blog visits. I’ll look for films with a historical or big-themed angle based on a novel or non-fiction book (not a novelized movie). I’ll reach back for more classics, as I did last year with “Ben Hur.”
  • Music: Given my recent rediscovery of a passionate love for creating and playing music, I will continue offering comments on music at this blog. Some posts will discuss the poetry of lyrics like the posts about Jimi Hendrix and Yes selections. But I will expand this to comment on other musical topics. Expect some surprises here, one or two coming up soon! One topic I’ll explore will be the nature of music itself, and why humans seem almost universally to connect with it. I will be consulting help on that topic—I will comment on books addressing this subject from numerous different angles.
  • I will continue posting about physics and metaphysics as I did on August 30, 2011 and October 7, 2011.  The next post will refer to some recent reading so my reflections on this esoteric and intensely complex topic do not seem to come out of thin air!
  • And I expect to come out with some posts on completely new topics. The world is supposed to come to an end this December. I expect to survive this event and post the day after the end of the world. I look forward to many visits and comments from others who have also survived that day! We also do have an election coming up later this year in the United States. I may wade into those treacherous waters. I’ve been there before—just take a look at my Internet Column and my 1997 novel, The Election. Don’t expect me to follow any conventional approach, “left” or “right.” That’s what’s great about blogging… I’m free to set my own rules! 


What to Expect from Me Creatively this Year

  • I have completed writing and revising (for now) The Sultan and Khan, my novel about one of the most neglected battles in world history, the battle between the Muslim Mamluks and the Mongol dynasty in September of 1260. I will work toward an announcement of when and where The Sultan and Khan will be available as details develop.
  • I’ll begin reading and research for the third novel of The Swords of Faith trilogy, The Ghosts of Baghdad. (I expect that to lead to some interesting blog posts.)
  • Look for news of some music performances this coming year as time permits me to schedule them.
  • I plan to produce a Christmas CD. I had been working on it when the end of the year caught up to me! But I have warned my family to expect to hear Christmas music during January and February as I build on the momentum I have developed late during 2011 and start building some tracks. 


Happy New Year to everyone. May 2012 be a year of joy and fulfillment, a year of great expectations realized, of love experienced and shared for all. 

Previous “Personal Notes” Posts:


Books-Into-Movies: “Tamara Drewe” (based on Tamara Drewe) December 22, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in book synopsis, books, books compared to movies, books into movies, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Posy Simmonds, Tamara Drewe.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

(This month, I posted a Books-Into-Movies commentary on the recent film release, “Hugo,” based on a graphic novel. Last year, I posted two Books-Into-Movies commentaries about graphic novels at a blog I discontinued last year, “Books Into Movies.” This commentary was first posted at that blog in October of 2010.)

“Tamara Drewe” (Movie Release Date: October 8, 2010)

Based on the book Tamara Drewe, written by Posy Simmonds, published 2008.

The Movie: “Tamara Drewe” the movie keeps the broad outline of the story presented in the novel, but makes many changes. These changes lead to deeper, more multi-dimensional characters, and to a more upbeat ending. There were a few significant changes that I will discuss first. I will then list other observations about the movie that struck me as interesting enough to mention.

I. Beth and Glen

Beth and Glen end up together at the end of the film. In the book, Glen ends up with literary success. In the movie, he ends with relationship success, coming together with Beth, whom he has developed deep affection for, enough for him to say he has overcome his writer’s block by thinking of writing for her—all this coming together at a place he has come to love as an inspiration for his creativity.

II. Jody Survives

Jody does not die trying to get high on air freshener. She ends up in an embrace with her rock-and-roll crush Ben; Casey stands by to snap pictures for posterity, or at least for their circle of contacts.

These are significant changes that give the film a more upbeat ending than the book.


Other notes of comparison:

  • In the opening credits, there is no mention of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd as an inspiration for the book. But the phrase is featured in the ad for the Stonefield writer’s retreat. And Glen’s writing project is about Thomas Hardy. Hardy is discussed frequently, and Hardy’s personal life, including his attraction to much younger women, acts as a definite counterpoint to Nick’s behavior. This discussion of Hardy is not in the book.
  • In my opinion, Nick looks dowdier in the movie—he is jowly, and flabbier than he seems to be drawn in the graphic novel.
  • In my opinion, Beth is frumpier and Glen is dumpier in the book. Neither are gorgeous in the movie, but they are more attractive than in the book.
  • Casey and Jody are introduced later in the book. They appear immediately in the movie. The spunkiness of Jody and the more passive adolescent misbehavior of Casey are captured beautifully in the movie—these two spunky girls are fun to watch! There were a few scenes in the movie for them that were not in the book, but that captured their characters beautifully:
    • The girls egging cars. (It’s two guys in the book.)
    • The girls trying to sneak into a show where Ben is performing.
    • Their own lives serving as motivations for some of their actions; Jody dislikes Nick because Nick reminds her of her cheating father.
  • Tamara starts off calling the house inherited from her mother “a dump.” It takes her awhile to warm up to it. Andy’s work on the house is a part of that process. In the book she connects with the home more quickly. In the movie, she stops by the place and then goes immediately to a hotel. The alarm scene takes place the next day. She talks about getting the place ready to sell.
  • The movie introduces a new character, a rough-around-the-edges woman who self-publishes her lesbian material on the internet. She is now one of the writers at the retreat. She has some funny moments early, but disappears. There was no one like her in the book.
  • The nosy bartender who acts as a sexual release for Andy is not in the book.
  • Ben leaving his band while on stage is not in the book.
  • Ben’s scene drumming on kitchen objects, a wonderful scene both to watch and to listen to, is not in the book.
  • The dog spooking the cows is a key part of the book, and is portrayed almost exactly the same in the movie. The only exception (and a it’s a big one) is the dog getting shot at the end of the film. Ben’s hostility toward the woman chasing his dog away from the cows, and hostility toward Beth for chaining up his out-of-control dog, set up the shooting of the dog by the feisty middle-aged female cattle owner. Ben’s behavior and unwillingness to control his dog make this outcome palatable.
  • The girls breaking into Tamara’s home is right out of the book, and generates much of the story’s drama.
  • The Jody email to Ben, sent from Tamara’s computer, about “giving you the shagging of your life,”—it’s not clear to whom it is addressed—is in the book. In the book, we see the email, addressed to Ben with a cc to Nick. The results of the email are right out of the book, including Jody’s realization that her email could break up Tamara and Ben, and as a result, remove Ben from her life.
  • Ben’s drumming, making it difficult for Tamara to write, is not in the book. It serves well to show Tamara and Ben having less and less in common, other than passionate sex.
  • Tamara at first directly and blatantly rejects Nick; this is not in the book. In the movie, Tamara makes an attempt to seduce Nick when she is younger and big-nosed. In the book, these two have had a past relationship together. In the movie, after the initial rejection, Tamara takes Nick on the rebound. In the book, she is rekindling a previous relationship.
  • The kiss at the vehicle between Tamara and Nick, recorded by Casey on her cell phone, is right out of the book. The picture is not sent right away in the movie; when Nick splashes Casey, she sends the picture in a fit of spite. She hesitates at first to send the picture because she knows the harm it could do. In the book, the picture is sent right away.
  • Jody’s attempt to meet Ben by posing as a “dog-lover” is also right out of the book, right up to Ben discovering her and confronting her at Tamara’s home. Tamara is not part of that confrontation in the book.
  • Nick wanting a future with Tamara, with Tamara not sharing that desire, is in the book. But the details deviate:
    • Tamara rejects Nick and breaks up with him in the movie; in the book, she just hopes Beth and Nick will stay together and does not makes her wishes known.
    • Tamara tells Nick that Andy is better than he is (not in the book). This leads to—
    • Nick begs Beth to get back together with him after Tamara’s rejection.
    • Nick catches Glen kissing Ben. So—
    • Nick’s confrontation with Glen at the water trough is more intense, involving an argument over Beth and who will be with her.
  • Beth confronting Nick about his adultery at a writer’s conference does not happen in the book.
  • The cow stampede scene is different in the movie, and makes Glen a more likable character. Instead of just running off after Nick falls back and hits his head, rendering him dazed and semi-conscious, Glen stays and tries to revive him, even to move him, and only leaves when the cows are arriving and there is no more that can be done.
  • In the book, Casey apologizes to both Tamara and Beth. This does not occur in the movie.
  • Beth’s breaking Tamara’s nose (a cute event in light of Tamara’s nose job that seemed to transform her into such a sexually charged temptation) is not in the book.
  • Tamara and Andy ending up together, with child, is in the book.

Tamara Drewe as a graphic novel offered a storyline and a cast of characters that the film-makers used as a jumping off point for crafting a small-scope, fun movie. The changes allowed actors to inject more energy into the character and the story.

The Book: Tamara Drewe is a “graphic novel” by author Posy Simmonds. (We used to call these “comic books” when I was younger, but the term “graphic novel” is better—this is not “comic,” and the story is told with drawn pictures.) The writer suggests the book is “inspired” by Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. I have not reviewed the Hardy novel for this post.

The author tells the story from a number of character points-of-view:

  • Glen Larson, the dumpy translator trying to perfect his literary novel.
  • Beth Hardiman, the frumpy middle-aged wife of successsful crime novelist, Nicholas Hardiman, and the organizer/operator of the author-friendly Stonefield Retreat.
  • Nicholas Hardiman, the self-centered, commercially successful author.
  • Andy Cobb, handyman around the Stonefield Retreat.
  • Tamara Drewe, the sexually charged columnist, returned to her family home—she is depicted and drawn as one of those young women who oozes sexuality in a way that has heterosexual males of all ages completely distracted when in her presence.
  • Casey Shaw, the teenage girl tangled in the antics of her more adventurous friend, Jody.


The story starts with Glen Larsen settling in to work on his still-not-completed literary masterpiece. Beth Hardiman works on keeping Stonefield Retreat running for the authors staying there. This includes her husband, whom she transcribes written pages into the computer for. She wonders why Nicholas doesn’t want her to come to a party in London with him. Is he ashamed of her? Is he seeing another woman—again? She fights with him over the issue, and believes their marriage may be over.

Andy Cobb, the estate handyman, a modest, good-looking young guy, hears the argument and offers support to Beth: “He won’t last five minutes without you…” Glen Larsen overhears the fight as well, and considers he is glad his own relationship of convenience is fizzling out.

The relationship between Nicholas Hardiman and his latest love-interest, Nadia Patel, breaks up. Glen notices that the Hardimans appear to be back together. But from Beth’s point-of-view, we see she remains unhappy about the situation.

The burglar alarm goes off at Winnard’s Farm. The place has been unoccupied since the owner “Mrs. Drewe” has died. Andy Cobb goes over to investigate and finds Tamara Drewe. She has had a nose job, and looks great—not just her face. Tamara comes over to apologize for the alarm. She has light brown hair and is drawn as a very sexy young lady. Glen notices her looking at Nick in a familiar way as she walks away. Glen strikes up a conversation with her, then makes a clumsy pass. She angrily rejects him.

Beth is annoyed with Tamara “dressing like a sex object… sucking up to male fantasies.” Nick recalls a past fling with Tamara, when she had a big nose and was much less sexually-charged. Andy recalls Tamara from before the nose-job. Tamara points out to him that it’s not “false, just smaller.” Tamara asks Andy to help out at her house as well. Beth is annoyed that “Tamara Drewe is trying to poach Andy.” Tamara tells Beth she thinks the farm will give her material for her column. Beth seems to make peace with her as they (Beth, Andy and Tamara) preside over the mating of two goats (which ends up in Tamara’s column described as a “blind date”). Andy tells Tamara he has fallen in love with her.

Tamara starts a passionate affair with Ben Sergeant, ex-drummer of a high profile rock band. Tamara brings Ben and his dog to her farm. Andy is upset Tamara has a boyfriend, but reconciles himself to it. Ben’s dog “bothers” the local cattle. Nicholas seems impressed with Ben’s fame, and charmingly tells him someone might shoot his dog. Ben finds the author’s retreat at Stonefield “disgusting.”

Tamara considers getting married to Ben. She runs into Nick at a book signing. He seems indifferent to her. Glen is making progress on his book, and confirms with Beth that he can come back to Stonefield the following February to finish it, as Stonefield is the only place where he feels he can write effectively. Tamara and Ben run into problem when Ben wants her to sell her home. He’s talking about moving to LA.

Casey Shaw and Jody Long break into Tamara’s home because Jody has a teenage obsession with Ben. Jody “borrows” some clothes from the home. Jody fanaticizes about loosing her “V plates” to Ben. Jody dresses up in Tamara’s clothes. She uses Tamara’s computer to send an email, under Tamara’s name, to Ben: “I want to give you the biggest shagging of your life.” She cc’s Nicholas Hardiman. Tamara tells Ben she did not send the email. But the incident creates tension between them. When it looks like they’ll break up, Jody is distraught because she won’t see Ben anymore.

Casey and Jody spy on Tamara’s home. They see Nick coming to her home. Nick starts, or restarts, their affair. Beth suspects the affair, or an affair with someone. Casey and Jody find it hard to believe Tamara is with Nicholas—an old guy—after Ben. Tamara is not serious about Nick. “…after Ben, just want some good, clean fun…” Casey and Jody break into Tamara’s again. Jody sees on Tamara’s computer that Ben is looking for someone to watch his dog. She emails from Tamara’s email a recommendation for herself—she figures this will set her up to meet Ben.

Casey snaps a cell phone picture of Tamara and Nick. They send the picture to Beth. Andy is with Beth when the picture comes in. He confronts Tamara who tells him it is none of his business. Now that news is leaking out, Nick decides he wants to leave his wife for Tamara. Tamara wonders “what’ve I got myself into.” Nick tells Tamara he not only wants to change wives, but to change writing genres. He’s tired of being the same “brand.” Nick announces at a writer’s conference that he will be ending his popular crime novel series.

Ben contacts Jody about the dog. But Jody’s mother will not agree to have the dog at their home. Jody is now “frozen,” unsure how to get herself out of her predicament. Ben does not come to their scheduled meeting. Jody breaks into Tamara’s home, and Ben comes in on her. He has figured out she sent the emails. She tells Ben she loves him. He tells her, gently, to leave and not return. She is clearly underage, huge potential trouble for Ben.

Tamara doesn’t want Nick to leave his wife, but doesn’t tell him. She hopes “Beth makes him stay.” But Beth is ready for a divorce. She tells Glen about it, and that Stonefield would probably go on the market as a result. They notice Ben’s dog around again, chasing cattle. Beth has an angry confrontation with Nick about him leaving her. She chases their dog away after the argument.

The next morning, Nick is found dead next to a feeding trough. He has been killed by stampeding cows. The police investigate and label the death an accident. Casey is at a party, connecting with a boy her age whom she likes when an ambulance arrives at Jody’s house. Jody has accidently killed herself inhaling air freshener to get high.

Glen reflects on recent events. We find out Glen and Nick had an argument that evolved into a shoving match. Glen pushed Nick back into the feeding trough. Nick hit his head and was stunned. Glen heard the cows coming—chased by Ben’s dogs—and ran. Nick was in no position to run from them.

Casey apologizes to Jody’s mother (for not alerting anyone to Jody’s drug use), and to Beth Hardiman (for sending the picture of Nick and Tamara).

A year later, we find Andy has moved in with Tamara, and Tamara has had a baby. People say the child is like Andy, but Beth thinks he “has the look of Nicholas around the eyes.” Glen has received good reviews for his finally completed novel. But he looks concerned when he finds out Tamara’s upcoming novel will be about a writer’s retreat.

Tamara Drewe

Tamara Drewe

Books-Into-Movies: “Red” (based on Red) December 19, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in book synopsis, books, books compared to movies, books into movies, Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Kelly Hamner, Morgan Freeman, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Red, Warren Ellis.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

(This month, I posted a Books-Into-Movies commentary on the recent film release, “Hugo,” based on a graphic novel. Last year, I posted two Books-Into-Movies commentaries about graphic novels at a blog I discontinued last year, “Books Into Movies.” This commentary was first posted at that blog in October of 2010.)

“Red” (Movie Release Date: October 15, 2010)

Based on the graphic novel Red, written by Warren Ellis and Kelly Hamner, published 2009.

The Movie: “Red” the movie needed to expand considerably the story provided by the graphic novel Red. Much is added to fill this out into a full-length movie. Also, the filmmakers made some changes in approach:

  • The movie’s tone is comic—swaggering and campy. (The graphic novel is unrelentingly dark, bloody and violent.) The music at the outset is light, setting the altered tone. (Energetic electric guitar based rock music underlies the action later.)
  • The hero, the Bruce Willis character, Frank Moses instead of Paul Moses, is not as vicious as the main character in the book. Many times, when non-lethal force will accomplish what is needed, non-lethal force is used. The Moses character in the book kills scores of government agents.


With a movie that required so much expansion from the book, we have not so much a series of changes between the book and the movie, but additions. I will go through these differences as is my custom in these posts, not trying to capture every difference, but to discuss details that seem different and/or interesting:

  • The book starts off revealing the reason the Moses character has been ordered to be killed. The reason is vague—horrible deeds documented in “Room R.” The movie starts off with the Moses character himself, a charming humanizing start for him (Bruce Willis was the perfect choice for this role—the charming, comic, action hero). The reasons for the attempted hit are a mystery that drives the movie, and involves more specific, narrower issues.
  • Sally Janssen from the book is now loosely morphed into Sarah. Sarah’s role is different, as a pension agent, not a CIA official, and her role is expanded to make her the main character’s love interest. None of the Sarah storyline—the initial kidnapping to the final scene when she’s held hostage to coerce the Moses character—is in the book. It’s all part of the story expansion.
  • During the very first scene with attempts to kill the Bruce Willis character, he beats them unconscious and injects one; he does not kill them as he does in the book.
  • This movie is based on a “graphic novel” as I have said. There is a campy element of melodrama, of exaggeration to the film that does suggest the “comic book”/”graphic novel” nature of the book, evidenced in the following scenes or story elements:
    • Shooting Moses’ house with so many bullets that parts of the house collapse. (This reminded me of a scene in the movie “The Gauntlet” a number of years ago during which the police do shoot a house until the whole thing collapses.)
    • One of the characters shoots a rocket propelled grenade with a pistol, hitting it on the tip, detonating it in midair, destroying the grenade and the enemy shooter.
    • Hitting another grenade as if it was a baseball, right back at the enemies who threw it.
    • A Russian agent says with casual nostalgia “I haven’t killed anyone in years.”
    • “Three in the chest” delivered by Victoria to the one she loved placed so close together and accurately that they wouldn’t kill him—instead of three in his head. Ivan shows the scars and treats them as a sign of affection.
    • Diminutive Victoria stands resolutely in her white dress, shooting up a parking garage with a heavy machine gun (that she leaves to continue shooting on some sort of automatic pilot).
    • After the CIA assassin turns against his superiors and saves the main character’s life, the Moses character utters an understated “thank you.
  • There is no CIA director Michael Beasley (or assistant director Adrian Kane). The chief antagonist is a CIA hired assassin, and then the Vice President and an industrialist who is his backer. (There is also the CIA supervisor of the assassin.) None of these characters are in the book.
  • The Morgan Freeman character (Joe), the John Malkovich character (Marvin) and the Helen Mirren character (Victoria) are not in the book (so none of the action involved with those characters is in the book.)
  • There is no New York Times reporter killed by a South African hit team, or a cover-up of an operation in Guatemala in the book.
  • There are no Russians joining Moses to fight the current CIA in the book.
  • The confrontation at Langley is not at the end of the movie as it is in the book, and it involves the CIA assassin, not the CIA director. The movie ends instead with the turnabout of the CIA assassin (who recognizes he has more in common with the Moses character than with his superiors issuing his orders), with the “good guys” winning and moving on without any problems or consequences. (At the end of the book, the Paul Moses character has killed the CIA director, and just about everyone at the CIA headquarters, and faces a line of rifle barrels).

The graphic novel Red only offers hints of “Red,” the movie. The tone is completely different; the ending is completely changed. The significant story expansion adds new characters who are consistent with the campier, more swaggering comic tone of the movie. These characters and all the various storylines they add are not even hinted at in the book.

The Book: Red (“Retired, Extremely Dangerous”) is the second recent major movie release based on a graphic novel. (I have also posted a comment on the movie based on Tamara Drewe.) Red is a short, simple story, with much more drawn action than dialog or narrative.

In Red, the graphic novel, a new CIA director comes in. He receives a briefing of what’s in “Room R.” The new director (Michael Beasley) is so shaken by what he has learned that he orders the retired CIA agent responsible to be killed. “No one can know this even happened. That the world was even like this.” Readers are given few details on what this is—just the indication that retired CIA agent Paul Moses killed a lot of people.

The first assassination attempt on Paul Moses, at his home, fails. He calls his old friend and handler Sally. She doesn’t seem to know about the assassination attempt.

They try to kill him again by confronting him in a dark alley—they have disabled a light-bulb to try to set up the killing. Moses kills another three would-be assassins. He tries to get one of the assassins to say why he has been marked for death. He gets no response. He calls Sally again. The phone goes dead in the middle of the call.

Another team tries to kill Paul Moses. He sneaks up on one of the team and runs a spear through his temples. Adrian Kane, assistant to the new director waits in his office. He is not surprised at the difficulty they are having killing Paul Moses.

Moses kills a policeman, part of the outer containment team at headquarters. The new director demands to know why they can’t kill him. Adrian tries to explain again how proficient and effective Moses is, even though he is old and retired.

Moses calls in. He has killed the entire outer containment team. He says he is coming for the director. He visits Sally. He leaves her alive and moves in toward the director. The director wants “kill teams into choppers and en route right now.”

Moses breaks through security, killing two guards with one bullet—through the mouth of one up through the forehead of the second man. He crashes into the building. He tells the director he will lay down his arms and wants the director to come out and talk to him. The director threatens to kill Moses’ niece in England—he will have her “butchered like a hog.”

The director hears knocking at the door. He yells out that he’s on the phone. Moses enters. “I know.” He tells the director he has killed the director’s family. He shoots assistant director Adrian Kane in the hand. Kane tells him “you will have to kill me and everyone in this building, because we will raise an army against you.” Moses tells them he already has killed everyone. He admits to being the “monster” the director has called him. He describes some of his horrible atrocities and says “I am a monster because I accept the hard choices.”

He then tells the director “Your wife and children are quite safe.” The director tearfully thanks him. Moses asks “Do you think they’ll miss you?” He kills the director. After a short, fairly cordial conversation, he kills the assistant director. The book ends as he walks through a doorway to face a line of drawn rifles. Moses brandishes his pistol saying “I’m the Monster. Do you best.”



Books-Into-Movies: “Secretariat” (based on the book SECRETARIAT) December 10, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in book synopsis, books, books compared to movies, books into movies, Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Lucien Lauren, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Penny Tweedy, Secretariat, William Nack.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

(This is a post from a blog I discontinued last year, “Books Into Movies.” This was first posted at that blog on October 15, 2010.)

“Secretariat” (Movie Release Date: October 8, 2010)

Based on the book Secretariat, written by William Nack, first published in 1975 under the title Big Red of the Meadow Stable, recent edition offered in 2010 with a new preface and an article at the end about Secretariat’s death.

The Movie: “Secretariat” the movie is a wonderfully crafted visual representation of William Nack’s book. There are deviations from the book, to heighten drama and for time efficiency. But the movie is generally faithful to the book, and the races themselves are spot-on with the book, offered with stunning, riveting thunder and motion.

The story starts in Denver with Helen “Penny” Chenery Tweedy learning about the death of her mother. This is the perfect place to begin the story, as it begins Penny Tweedy’s direct involvement with horse racing and the Chenery stable, known as “the Meadow.” The other background information at the outset of Nack’s book comes in with less detail, leaking in clips as the story moves forward.

The family scenes, with the daughter involved with the protests-politics of the 1960s/early 70s are not in the book. Penny Tweedy’s family gets a great deal more prominence in the movie than in the book. Little dramas like the daughters wanting to go to Chile, and Penny Tweedy missing her daughter’s play, are not in the book.

The secretary of the Meadow, Elizabeth Hamm, does name the horse (and much earlier in Secretariat’s life than in the movie), but her role as confidante and moral support for Penny Tweedy is not featured in the book, though there are references to her sitting with Penny Tweedy at races. Bull Hancock and his son Seth are very much represented as they were in the book. Bull Hancock also serves to symbolize the help Penny Tweedy apparently got from a number of seasoned race horse professionals as she took on more responsibility at the Chenery’s stable.

The movie portrays more conflict over whether or not to sell the Meadow, and instead of a sister and a brother, in the movie, Penny Tweedy has only a brother. As I mentioned in my summary of the book, the conflict over selling off the Meadow seemed mild to me as described in the book.

Lucien Laurin’s joining of the Chenery stable is simplified and dramatically sharpened for the movie. Nothing is mentioned in the movie about his son’s tenure at the Chenery stable before Lucien Laurin’s arrival. In fact, the horse Riva Ridge is never mentioned, a horse than won two legs of the Triple Crown the year before Secretariat’s run, and no mention is made that Laurin was training other horses, including Angle Light, the horse who beats Secretariat at the Wood Memorial, just before the Kentucky Derby. Penny Tweedy’s dismissal of a dishonest trainer is not in the book, though the episode serves to show her taking charge at the farm. Lucien Laurin is an interim hire at first—he is not sought and hired in the dramatic fashion depicted in the movie.

The coin toss, and how Penny Tweedy “lost” the toss to end up with Secretariat, is a wonderfully ironic story, and pretty much consistent with the book, with some dramatic flourishes added for the screen, with a ceremony and dramatic motion of the coin.

The book points out that Penny Tweedy is not immediately keen on Secretariat, though he is a striking horse from birth. She believes he detracts from the achievements of Riva Ridge. The movie portrays an instant connection between them.

Secretariat’s first race, with his fourth place finish, is true to the book. (All the race details are consistent with what is documented in the book.)

Ron Turcotte is brought in as jockey a little less dramatically than in the movie. Jockeys ride more than one horse, which is not clear in the movie. Secretariat is just a two year old with possibilities at the time of his first race, and Ron Turcotte is a big name jockey.

Secretariat’s tendency to run from the back, and his apparent posing and seeming to understand when it was race day are directly from the book. And he wins Horse of the Year, as announced in the movie by Ronnie Turcotte as he comes into a restaurant with the headline on his newspaper.

There are a few scenes before the Triple Crown year that are fun but not portrayed in the book:

  • The groom, secretary, trainer and Penny Tweedy dancing as they clean/groom the horse.
  • The horse peeing on a reporter as a he asks a question that is critical of the horse.

C.T. Chenery’s death, and the tax problems of the Meadow as a result are straight from the book. The drama of the situation is heightened and the film portrays more conflict among family members than I remember from the book. There is nothing like Penny Tweedy’s husband and brother teaming up against her. At this point, Bull Hancock has passed away (though in the book, his death is not linked with C.T. Chenery’s), leaving his son Seth to attempt the syndication of the breeding rights to Secretariat. The movie implies this is unusual. What was unusual was not the concept of the syndication of breeding rights, but the huge amount of money requested for each share. Seth Hancock handles this by himself, not with Penny Tweedy and secretary Elizabeth Hamm in a team effort. And though there are a few hesitations and refusals at the beginning, Seth Hancock is on his way to completing the syndication of the breeding rights successfully by the end of the first day. There is an offer to buy the horse’s breeding rights by an Irish firm. But the book does not indicate an offer by Ogden Phipps to buy Secretariat for eight million dollars. In the book, it is Seth Hancock who convinces Ogden Phipps to buy a share of Secretariat’s breeding rights.

Though some of the brashness and bravado appears to be sharpened for the movie, the arrival of Sham as a rival to Secretariat, and the confidence of his trainer, are also in the book.

At the Wood Memorial, Penny Tweedy seems troubled about Secretariat before he runs (instead of the jockey, as in the book). The movie goes into the abscess with a slight variation on who knows what at what point. Frankly, the movie’s sequence of events almost makes more sense. Sometimes fiction exists to make sense out of reality. This may be one of those times. As I read the book, I wondered why the groom and the vet, who knew about the abscess before the race, didn’t say anything to the trainer/jockey/owner! The idea that “Red” only allowed Penny Tweedy near his mouth does not appear in the book.

In the book, the abscess clears well before the Kentucky Derby. Secretariat’s workouts improve, and jockey Turcotte is confident about the race. The movie has uncertainty about the abscess right up to the Kentucky Derby, with Lucien Laurin actually considering pulling Secretariat.

The racing sequences are a stunning achievement of the movie, and are absolutely consistent with the book. The film-makers resist the temptation to have “photo-finishes,” close finishes, to ramp up excitement. And the way the races are filmed, the excitement is there without “photo-finishes.” The finishes are shown the way they are portrayed in the book. The Kentucky Derby—we are there with the turf pounding, and the hooves churning up the track. This is a movie that is best seen in a theater with big-screen sounds and visuals for the full effect. At the Preakness, we cut to the family in Colorado and see the race from their point-of-view. But the race results are still consistent with the book.

Secretariat’s incredible domination of the Belmont is completely faithful to the book, from the head-to-head race with Sham at the beginning, to Secretariat’s phenomenal finish. In the book, we learn that Ron Turcotte ran Secretariat as fast as he did because the horse was running so easily. He did not know he was shattering records until the very end, or that people in the stands were concerned that he was running Secretariat too hard. He lets the horse run his pace, a pace that just happens to be an exceptional, world-beating pace. Sham is the one who falls back—to last, another fun detail not as clear in the movie.

The end information, telling us where everyone ends up, follows the book with one major exception. Penny Tweedy’s marriage breaks up in 1974. The only comment in the movie is that she goes back to Colorado and lives happily ever after. I think the filmmakers want us to feel that Penny Tweedy’s husband accepted his wife’s accomplishments. And maybe he did. But they had grown apart, and sadly, their marriage was a casualty of the events of this inspirational story about an exceptional racehorse.


As I have stated in the “about” section of this blog, it is not my intention to do movie or book reviews here—just comparisons. But I have to say that this film was a joy to watch, with excellent choices to maintain the basic shape of the story in the book while heightening the drama for entertainment value. The pure spectacle of the racing scenes adds to the experience. I would not be surprised to see Oscar nominations for this movie next year, for some of the technical work on the film, as well as acting nominations for Diane Lane and John Malkovich.


The Book: Secretariat is a comprehensive chronicle of the story of the celebrated Triple Crown winning racehorse, Secretariat. The book goes into some ups and downs of the story, but given that at birth, the horse already seemed exceptional, we wonder what sort of drama and conflict is available. As is my custom, I will do a brief synopsis of this 455 page (paperback edition) of this book. But before I do, I will mention some possible stress points that appeared, but seemed to evaporate:

  • Helen “Penny” Chenery Tweedy takes over “the Meadow” when her father becomes incapacitated at the end of his life. She is inexperienced in the horse racing business. But she makes friends and gets help from other established horse-racing professionals.
  • At first, it appears the other Tweedy siblings (a sister and a brother) may want to sell the Meadow. But this never becomes a serious issue, especially with the success of the horse Riva Ridge and of course, the following year, Secretariat.
  • Penny Tweedy’s marriage is strained by her transformation from subordinate housewife to racing stable operator. But the tensions in the marriage also seem to remain in the background. At the end, we find out the marriage breaks up in 1974, but these tensions offer little intrusion into the story.
  • Penny Tweedy’s young trainer leaves for another job, and needs to be replaced. The young trainer suggests his father, a man Penny Tweedy has doubts she can work with. He is hired on an interim basis, but quickly works out well—Lucien Laurin is set to complete the training tasks of his career at the Tweedy stable.
  • When C.T. Chenery dies, a huge estate tax looms. But the problem is solved by syndicating the breeding rights to Secretariat.

So we will see how the filmmakers generate the conflict and drama expected to sustain interest in a major motion picture. I will say, that the way Secretariat ran from the rear to win many of his races, the drama of the races and the meaning of success for the likable handlers of Secretariat, may be enough.


Nack goes back to the Civil War to discuss the history of the stables involved with Secretariat. He goes back a number of generations to discuss the pedigree of Secretariat. Various racing personalities, peripheral to the main story, are also profiled with background information.

Penny Tweedy loses a coin toss that ironically gives the Chenery stable the product of the mating of Bold Ruler with the Chenery stable mare Somethingroyal; that horse would be Secretariat, born in late 1970.

As Secretariat grows during his early months, Riva Ridge from the Chenery stable is having a great season, and absorbs the focus of attention from Penny Tweedy and trainer Lucien Laurin.

In early 1972, Secretariat is already growing into “an aesthetic marvel of anatomical slopes and bulges, curves and planes…” Jockey Ron Turcotte recalls him as a “big likable fellow,” and Secretariat becomes the most popular of the “baby two year olds” with the “exercise boys and jockeys.” But there isn’t a lot of excitement about Secretariat immediately as he is outraced during workouts.

April 1, 1972, Turcotte senses a “change in Secretariat.” The big red horse completes a particularly fast workout. He is “learning how to run.”

Jimmy Gaffney, “an exercise boy” for the Meadow/Chenery stable is one of the first to laud the potential of Secretariat. As Secretariat begins to experience more serious workouts in May, Riva Ridge fails to win the Preakness after previously winning the Kentucky Derby. Riva Ridge does win the Belmont Stakes in June, taking two thirds of the Triple Crown.

On July 4, 1972, Secretariat enters his first race. He finishes fourth, getting boxed in, and though demonstrating more speed than the other horses in the race, he is unable to breakout of the pack and take the lead. Secretariat wins his next race, and some begin to see his potential. Trainer Lucien Laurin wants jockey Ron Turcotte to start riding Secretariat as soon as possible because he “might be a stakes horse.”

Penny Tweedy resents Secretariat at first because he detracts from the attention she thinks should be given to Riva Ridge. But as 1972 moves forward, and Secretariat’s potential; becomes more evident, and as Riva Ridge peaks and begins to decline, Secretariat’s stock at the Chenery stable rises. Secretariat wins races later in the year, establishing a pattern of running from behind and overtaking his opponents at the end. His victories gain him more and more recognition. Secretariat ends up voted as 1972 Horse of the Year, a nearly unheard of honor for a two-year-old, identifying him as a strong Triple Crown contender for 1973.

C.T. Chenery dies in January of 1973. Huge estate taxes threaten the existence of the Chenery stable. The family considers a number of options, including selling some of their horses. They decide to syndicate shares in Secretariat’s breeding rights—32 shares with 4 retained by the Chenery stable. Nack goes into great detail about the syndication process. The process is a success; the money is raised. Secretariat will race during 1973, and try to win the Triple Crown. After that, he will become an expensive stud horse. There is also a brief flirtation with selling Secretariat to a firm in Ireland, but this never seems serious.

Nack details the races leading up to the Triple Crown races later in 1973. Secretariat wins the first race, the Bay Shore on March 17th, again by coming from behind. Secretariat seems to be racing at the same level as he was in late 1972.

Secretariat’s build-up grows as the Kentucky Derby approaches. He is a larger than the legendary race horse, Man o’ War. Secretariat’s admirers include the legendary Eddie Arcaro.

At the next race, Lucien Laurin wants to try getting Secretariat to run from the front, in case he needs that strategy to win a future Triple Crown race. Secretariat wins the race, tying the track record.

Secretariat appears to be unbeatable. At this point, Nack gives details about Sham, a horse from out west, a possible rival for Secretariat. Pancho Martin is the trainer; Laffit Pincay Jr. is the jockey. The two horses will meet head to head at the Wood Memorial.

But Secretariat develops an abscess inside the upper lip of his mouth, a condition the groom and the veterinarian are aware of, but for some unspecified reason, no one tells the trainer or the jockey. Secretariat does not seem himself as the race approaches. During the race, he will not take the bit, and a horse named Angle Light finishes first, with Sham finishing second, ahead of Secretariat in third. Recriminations and doubts crop up after the race. Ron Turcotte tries to explain that the horse just wasn’t himself. When Turcotte finally hears about the abscess, he understands exactly what went wrong, and makes sure the abscess is treated. The condition is alleviated a few days after the race. Other tensions surface as Angle Light was also trained by Lucien Laurin.

The Wood Memorial result creates some drama for the Kentucky Derby. Sham’s handlers think Sham can win. Some wonder if Secretariat has been over-hyped. Jimmy the Greek, the famous sports gambler, broadcasts speculation that Secretariat is getting ice packs applied to his knees.

Lucien Laurin gives his instructions to Ronnie Turcotte—keep the horse clear so his incredible finishing speed does not get bottled up. Turcotte senses Secretariat is himself again. He is taking the bit, the way he did before the abscess. Secretariat wins the Kentucky Derby by two and a half lengths, setting a new record. Sham finishes second, also with a time better than the old record, but second that day.

Secretariat seems ready for the Preakness. Sham’s handlers still believe he can beat Secretariat and will win the Preakness. Expectations are again high for Secretariat, that he will be the Triple Crown winner and set new records in the process. Secretariat now not only seems to be a superior racer, but moves with a “kind of flourish,” with a charisma. Secretariat wins again, dramatically, coming from behind. Sham is again second. A slow track prevents another record run.

The Belmont Stakes is the longest of the Triple Crown races. Expectations continue to increase for Secretariat. The Belmont seems to be more of a “coronation” than a race. Secretariat gets representation from the William Morris Agency for uses of his image and the rights to his story. Secretariat’s training for the Belmont is going particularly well. Lucien Laurin decides that in this race, Secretariat should not run from the back. There have been questions as to whether Secretariat will have the stamina to win the race, based on his bloodline. The Bold Ruler bloodline has lacked stamina in the past. Sham’s handlers are also determined to set the pace, take the lead, and finally defeat Secretariat.

Secretariat breaks to the front, and he and Sham battle for the lead. The pace is scary fast, creating some anxious moments. Ronnie Turcotte doesn’t know about the absurdly low times the horses are putting up for the early splits. He just knows the horse is running easily, and he senses Sham is working very hard to keep pace. Secretariat and Sham pull away from the field. Sham wears out, and ends up finishing last. Secretariat pulls away from all the horses in the race, finishing thirty-one lengths ahead of the second place horse—an astonishing achievement in horse racing history. He shatters the course record.

In the Epilogue, Nack summarizes the final races of Secretariat’s racing career. He loses two of them. But his legend is established, and his new role as stud begins in 1974. He sires successful racehorses and brood mares, though none approach his successes on the track. Secretariat finishes with winnings of $1,316,808, fourth all time, though he only races for two years.

The book finishes with a 1989 article about Secretariat’s death. Secretariat contracts laminitis, a painful hoof disease that can be fatal. Secretariat is unable to recover from the disease, and to end his suffering, the horse is given a fatal does of barbiturates.



Books-Into-Movies: “The Social Network” (based on the book THE ACCIDENTAL MILLIONAIRES) December 8, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Accidental Millionaires, Ben Mezrich, book synopsis, books, books compared to movies, books into movies, Facebook, Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Mark Zuckerberg, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Sean Parker, Social Network.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

(This is a post from a blog I discontinued last year, “Books Into Movies.” This was first posted at that blog on October 15, 2010.)

“The Social Network” (Movie Release Date: October 1, 2010)

Based on the book The Accidental Millionaires, written by Ben Mezrich, published 2009.

The Movie: “Social Network” starts off with frenetic dialogue between Mark Zuckerberg and a girlfriend who is breaking up with him. This scene captures Zuckerberg’s intelligence and nerdy arrogance. Story information is also offered here, at that frenetic pace, including how Eduardo Saverin made $300,000 by investing based on his study of weather patterns. The scene starts the movie off with a jolt into Zuckerberg’s world. This opening scene differs from the book in material ways:

  • Zuckerberg has no girlfriend at the outset of The Accidental Millionaires. He starts FaceMash after an undetailed “frustrating evening.” All the drama concerning the girlfriend, including the final scene with Zuckerberg trying to add her as a Facebook friend, was not in the book
  • Zuckerberg is often depicted in the book as a distant person, offering one word answers during conversations. The clever word patter of Zuckerberg in the film is not evident in the book. (In fairness to the filmmakers, the Zuckerberg presented in the movie is more interesting and fun to watch than the Zuckerberg in the book, and the dialogue captures the essence of the character, if not his speech patterns.)

The book also starts out with Eduardo Saverin courted by the Phoenix club. But I never got the idea from the book that Zuckerberg cared that much about the Harvard social clubs.

In the movie, Eduardo Saverin provides an algorithim Mark Zuckerberg needs to launch FaceMash. In the book, Zuckerberg launches it on his own.

None of the legal scenes—the depositions, lawyers’ questions, interactions with the pretty young female associate and Zuckerberg—none of these scenes are in the book. These are used as efficient devices to supply narrative information about the story not easily conveyed through real-time action without bogging down a visual medium. I do wonder if the filmmakers wanted to bring a little justice to the story, ending with an emotionally conflicted Zuckerberg trying to friend his old girlfriend at the end of the movie. I did not sense any sort of emotional remorse from Zuckerberg in the book.

FaceMash brings Zuckerberg to the attention of Divya Narendra and the Winklevoss twins as in the book. Some of the meeting logistics are different in the movie. And through the use of the deposition scenes, we do get the idea that an email trail proves Zuckerberg led the Winklevoss-Narendra partnership on without definitively opting out of their offer to partner with them on their site. In the book, I got the idea that the Winklevoss-Narenda project was more of a straight dating site, with less Facebook characteristics than indicated in the movie. They also have Zuckerberg saying “I’m in,” in the movie. In the book, Zuckerberg never really says whether he’s in or out.

In the book, Divya Narendra reads about the launch of Facebook in the Harvard Crimson. The movie is more dramatic, with Narendra interrupting a choir as he sees the site on a laptop.

The book does make reference to Asian girls being somehow available to the brilliant nerdy awkward types like Zuckerberg and Saverin. The novel is faithful to this observation.

Saverin’s discussion of the Winklevoss-Narendra cease-and-desist order is very much out of the book, and shows that Zuckerberg sees himself as the prime-mover for the Facebook project, alone, even then.

Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker was an inspired casting choice. Readers may or may not have visually imagined Timberlake as a match for Parker. But the party-man charisma, the swaggering gregariousness—Timberlake captures these aspects of the Sean Parker character consistent with his portrayal in the book. Parker’s discovery of theFacebook site is from the book, though there is no easy way to convey that Parker suspected before seeing the site that online social networks might be the next big activity for the internet.

Some of the dialogue in the Winklelevoss-Narendra/Larry Summers meeting is surely juiced up for dramatic purposes (“punch me in the face” from Summers). But the utter rejection of the Winklevoss-Narendra appeal is right out of the book.

Sean Parker’s meeting with Zuckerberg and Saverin in New York is straight from the book, complete with Parker starting to bring Zuckerberg under his influence, and Saverin’s dislike of Parker and suspicions about him. And Parker’s push to drop the “the” from “theFacebook” is also right out of the book.

Saverin’s feeding of chicken to the chicken he carried around as part of his initiation into the Phoenix club was not given nearly as much prominence in the book as it is in the movie. It is an early event that involves Saverin alone, and that resolves quickly.

Saverin’s behavior as Zuckerman moves out to California is consistent with the book. We could say Saverin trusted his friend, and preferred to remain in denial over some of the warning signs that were developing—Zuckerberg’s dismissal of advertising, Saverin’s primary activity, and Zuckerberg’s growing connection with Sean Parker and agreement with his suggestions. Despite the warning signs, Saverin puts up $18,000 for the California trip during the summer of 2004. Parker bumps into Zuckerberg in the book as well as in the movie. Do we really believe this was a coincidence?

The “I’m the CEO – bitch” designation on Mark Zuckerberg’s business card appears at the end of the book, and I do not recall it being suggested by Sean Parker.

The scene of the Winklevosses finding out their losing race had been broadcasted on Facebook, and that Facebook was now enjoying an international reach, to them an ultimate slap in the face, is right out of the book.

Eduardo Saverin’s trips to the Bay Area are dramatized and condensed in the movie. Some of the order of events is altered. But the essence remains the same—Saverin becomes disenchanted with events in the Bay area and freezes the bank account. He signs a set of papers, and then after Zuckerberg obtains a $500,000 investment from a venture capitalist firm, finds himself presented with a different set of papers that essentially “dilute” him out of the company. Two other aspects at this point of the movie are different from the book, revving up the drama:

  • In the book, Saverin finds himself in the offices of a new set of attorneys, attorneys he has never met, asking him to sign the new papers. Zuckerberg does not meet him on this last trip, and probably wasn’t in the same building with him at the time.
  • The confrontations between Saverin and Parker, particularly the one at the “ambush” scene, do not take place in the book. The indirect removal of his friend from Facebook appears more in character with the Mark Zuckerberg of the book, though less interesting on the screen.

Zuckerberg going to a meeting with venture capitalists in his pajamas as suggested by Sean Parker is straight out of the book. Parker orchestrates the incident, to get back at a venture capital firm Parker felt had wronged him in a previous deal.

Sean Parker himself is removed from Facebook after indiscretions at a party a few months after the “ambush” of Saverin, as depicted in the book.

The notations at the end about the settlement of the lawsuits appear to have been updated. The Winklevoss-Narenadra settlement is noted. Also noted is a settlement of the Saverin lawsuit for an undisclosed amount. And Facebook, at the end of the movie, is up to being worth 25 billion, with 500 million members.


“Social Network” is a faithful adaptation of the book The Accidental Millionaires, true to the tone of the story. The pace of the movie, and its modern, happening-now, vibrant feel add to the effect of this fascinating, entertaining film. I would not be surprised to see Oscar nominations for screenplay, and for acting for Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake.


The Book: The Accidental Millionaires is the story of the beginning of the Facebook website, an internet institution so ingrained into cyberspace now that it is hard to believe the site has only been around for about half a decade. In the “Author’s Note,” Mezrich indicates:

  • He “recreated scenes in the book” from documents and interviews.
  • He acknowledges the chronology is as “close to exact as possible.”
  • “In some instances, details of settings and descriptions have been changed or imagined.”
  • “Identifying details of certain people were altered.”
  • “Other than a handful of public figures who populate this story, names and personal information have been altered.”
  • He uses the “technique of recreated dialogue.”

This means that the book itself is partially invented, based on real facts, but not entirely factual. My comparison here is between the book and the movie. I have not researched the accuracy of the information offered in the book.

Another consideration is Mezrich’s acknowledgement that he had no access to Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg is the main character of this story. Mezrich takes care to be fair to what he suspects is the Zuckerberg character’s point-of-view, but it is worth knowing that he had no direct interaction to gain that perspective for his book.


The story begins with Eduardo Saverin joining the Phoenix, an exclusive social club at Harvard, where he is a junior. He meets Mark Zuckerberg, whom he evaluates as too socially awkward to get an invitation to the Phoenix. But the two strike up a friendship, though Saverin finds Zuckerberg a difficult person to read. It is clear to Saverin that Zuckerberg is incredibly smart, with a prodigious talent for computers.

Mezrich then introduces the Winklevoss twins, good-looking future Olympic rowers. The Winklevoss twins and their friend, Divya Narendra, have an idea for an internet dating site for Harvard students to be called “the Harvard Connnection,” a site designed to facilitate more efficient contacts between Harvard young men and women sometimes too busy to meet compatible dating partners. They have the concept; they need to replace their computer design partner who has lost interest in the project.

On a night during the last week of October 2003, possibly the result of frustrations of not getting just a little bit of encouraging attention from the opposite sex, Mark Zuckerberg launches FaceMash, a site that flirts with comparing female students to farm animals and invites students to rate the ladies at the school according to “hotness,” ranking then on line. The hacking skills, and computer sophistication needed to pull this off are impressive, though Zuckerberg gets into trouble for the site, and takes it down very quickly after it goes up (but not before thousands of internet hits).

Zuckerberg’s FaceMash stunt brings him to the attention of Divya Narendra, who approaches Zuckerberg about becoming the replacement for the lost computer designer for their website, the Harvard Connection. Zuckerberg checks with his friend Edward Saverin, who isn’t keen on the idea. He does not think Zuckerberg needs them. But Zuckerberg decides to meet with them.

The Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra think they have partner. They believe Zuckerberg will jump at the chance to join their project to wash away any bad publicity he got from FaceMash, and at the chance for an awkward computer geek to mix with well-known, socially connected Harvard students. They fail to consider that Zuckerberg may not have believed the FaceMash episode was bad publicity, and that computer technology was maybe more important to Zuckerberg than social standing.

At about the same time, shortly after Facemash, Mark Zuckerberg tells Eduardo Saverin about his idea for a site called “the facebook,” a site where Harvard students can put up pictures and profiles—a more constructive use of the FaceMash technology. No, Zuckerberg does not consider this the same as the Winklevoss twins’ project, which was more of a simple dating site. Zuckerberg had apparently decided not to work on their site. Eduardo Saverin puts up a thousand dollars to get “theFacebook” project running.

But Zuckerberg doesn’t tell the Winklevoss twins he is not interested in their project. He puts them off, saying he has no time, and that a lot of work needs to be done to liven up a site that “lacks functionality.” The Winklevosses and Narendra are frustrated at Zuckerberg’s lack of progress, but they still assume Zuckerberg is their computer design partner.

In early 2004, “theFacebook” goes up at Harvard, an online social network for Harvard students. Divya Narendra sees an article in the Harvard Crimson newspaper and shows it to the Winklevoss twins. They are livid. They see this as the theft of their idea by Zuckerberg while he had strung them along. They will speak to their father’s lawyer and see what can be done to remedy the perceived transgression.

TheFacebook is catching on. Right now, it makes no money—it costs money to run the site. Zuckerberg enjoys its success. Savarin does too, but it is his money into the project, and he is concerned about practicalities. Zuckerberg also tells him that about a week after the site launched, he had received notice from Cameran Winklevoss asking him to cease and desist, and making other demands. Zuckerberg had answered, denying his site was the same as the Winklevoss site, and denying they ever had a binding agreement to work together. Zuckerberg’s roommates Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes join the project to deal with the fast growth of the Facebook, and its coming expansion to additional colleges. Saverin suggests that he will approach advertisers to begin monetizing the site.

The Winklevosses try to get Harvard to intervene based on Zuckerberg’s alleged violation of the Harvard student honor code. The school administration flatly refuses.

The book now introduces Sean Parker, an internet entrepreneur, previously involved with Napster and another site called Plaxo. He is famous in Silicon Valley computer/internet circles as a wild party-man who knows everyone. He looks for a computer/internet start-up that will make him the next billionaire. He thinks social networks have possibilities. He stumbles on “theFacebook” and sees potential (though he thinks “Facebook” alone would be a better title for the site). He decides he needs to find and meet Mark Zuckerberg, whose name is on every page of the site: “A Mark Zuckerberg Production.”

Eduardo Saverin continues efforts to line up advertisers. He and Zuckerberg meet Sean Parker in New York. Saverin recognizes that Parker and Zuckerberg have an instant rapport. Parker has no money of his own, but has the connections to put Zuckerberg and Saverin in contact with potential Silicon Valley venture capitalists and investors.

After the spring of 2004 term at Harvard, Zuckerberg moves to California. Saverin is not comfortable with the separation, with the idea of Zuckerberg’s exposure to whirlwind personalities like Sean Parker, but consoles himself with the idea they will be back at Harvard for the fall term.

The Winklevosses and Divya Narendra launch their site, now called Connect U. It does not catch on, even just at the university.

Sean Parker and Mark Zuckerberg join forces in California. Eduardo Saverin comes out for a weekend and sees how wild the Silicon Valley atmosphere is, and how Zuckerberg is seduced by it. He is uncomfortable with Zuckerberg’s one-word answers as Saverin tells Zuckerberg he has made progress with the advertisers. But he feels reassured by the idea that he and Zuckerberg have a partnership agreement, and that theFacebook is going to be big.

Saverin is back in New York, still believing he is in charge of the financial aspects of theFacebook. (And Saverin had put up more and more of his own funds to bankroll the project, including the costs of the California stay for Zuckerberg and his associates.) He writes an angry letter to Zuckerberg about his lack of inclusion, and when he is unsatisfied with Zuckerberg’s response to the letter, he freezes the bank account for the project.

The Winklevosses sue Zuckerberg. The freezing of the bankroll drives Zuckerberg closer to Sean Parker. Parker connects Zuckerberg with some venture capitalist investors who put up $500,000 for a small stake in Facebook. This will allow the defense of the Winklevoss lawsuit and provide finds to further grow the company, now called Facebook, as suggested by Sean Parker.

Earlier, Saverin is summoned to California to sign papers for a new legal arrangement. He signs them, believing he still owns over thirty percent of Facebook, And Facebook is now up to a million users and growing. On April 4, 2005, Eduardo Saverin arrives in California for another meeting with lawyers. Additional shares have been added to the company. Saverin’s shares would now be worth under ten per cent of the company. Saverin was being “diluted out of the company.” Saverin refuses to sign. He feels betrayed. He will file his own lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg.

Later during 2005, Sean Parker is arrested at a wild college party. Mark Zuckerberg, though undoubtedly feeling some debt to Parker, sees his wild lifestyle as a risk to Facebook. Now Sean Parker has to go. Mark Zuckerberg’s attitude and personality could be summed up simply with the notation on his business card: “I’m CEO – Bitch.”

In the Epilogue, we find out Sean Parker is still a force in Silicon Valley, the Winklevosses settled their suit for a speculated amount of 65 million (an amount they reportedly were not happy with), Eduardo Savaren’s lawsuit is “shrouded in secrecy,” though his name is added as a “cofounder” of Facebook. As to Mark Zuckerman, Facebook is valued at an estimated fifteen billion dollars with an estimated two hundred million users plus, adding five million users a week.

The Accidental Millionaires

The Accidental Millionaires