Books-Into-Movies: “The Great Gatsby”/2013 and 1974 (based on the novel THE GREAT GATSBY) May 26, 2013Posted by rwf1954 in A and E Network, book synopsis, books, books compared to movies, books into movies, F Scott Fitzgerald, Granada Television, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mira Sorvino, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Robert Redford, The Great Gatsby, Toby Stephens.
Tags: A and E Network, book commentary, book synopsis, books compared to movies, books into movies, F Scott Fitzgerald, Granada Television, Leonardo DiCaprio, made-for-television, Mira Sorvino, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Robert Redford, television movie, The Great Gatsby, Toby Stephens
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This Books-Into-Movies post is obviously triggered by the recently released movie version of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, The Great Gatsby. I will compare the book to this recent effort, and also reach back to the 1974 movie starring Robert Redford. I will compare the different movie approaches where that makes sense. There will be some redundancy, as I know some visitors to this post will be interested in a comparison to just one of the movies. I will end this post with a synopsis of the novel (allowing readers to make their own comparisons).
The 2013 Movie
This movie version was faithful to the basic story, with some dialogue and narrative taken directly from the book. The filmmakers took the novel’s elements and ratcheted up their intensity, not changing the basics of the story, but adding more edge, and more drama, to some of the elements. There is one large addition—Nick Carraway at a sanitarian telling his story. There is nothing like this in the book. So there is no doctor to tell the story to, and no moment when Nick Caraway writes “the Great” in front of “Gatsby.”
Other points of comparison:
- The green light across the bay is mentioned in the novel, though the film gives this more emphasis.
- Nick’s home, a small rental shack sandwiched between two mansions and next door to Gatsby’s mansion is from the book.
- Except for writing a few “obvious” editorials for the Yale News while in college, there is no indication Nick Carraway has ambitions of being a writer in the book.
- Daisy lives directly across the bay in the more prestigious East Egg—straight from the novel.
- Tom Buchanan, the wealthy, ex-athlete womanizer as Daisy’s husband, is also directly from the book.
- Jordan Baker, the golfer-friend of the Buchanans also comes directly from the book.
- Daisy’s reaction to hearing Gatsby’s name during Nick’s first visit is also depicted in the book.
- Tom Buchanan reading a book warning of the rise of non-whites against whites as a threat to civilization is also described in the book. Daisy thinks the book is making Tom depressed.
- Ash-heaps on the route between Long Island and New York, including the imposing billboard of the doctor staring down at the road are also vividly described in the book.
- Myrtle Wilson getting a dog for her apartment away from her husband is also directly from the book.
- Nick’s day at Myrtle Wilson’s apartment seems more intense, more physical, more depraved, than it is in the book, though the basic elements are consistent with the book. Nick does get drunk and lose track of time in the book. And at the end of the evening, Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose with a slap when Myrtle continues to say Daisy’s name after Tom demands that she stop.
- Nick’s first Gatsby party follows the book fairly closely. He has an actual invitation when no one else does. Jordan Baker joins him. Nick encounters a man with owl-shaped glasses in Gatsby’s library. And Nick meets Gatsby for the first time seeming to stumble onto him at the party, and talks to him before finding out who he is.
- Gatsby interrupted by phone calls from various cities is from the book.
- Gatsby inviting Nick to join him on his hydroplane the next day is from the book.
- “Old sport” as a frequent Gatsby expression—definitely from the book.
- As in the movie, Jordan Baker is called in to talk to Gatsby privately and says she has learned something “tantalizing.” But she does not say “this explains everything” (though that is the logical result of the type of information she is talking about). And she does tell Nick to look up her name in the phonebook, but calls out the name of her aunt to look up so they can meet for tea—as Gatsby has requested.
- Jordan Baker conveys Gatsby’s request that he invite Daisy over for tea—in the movie and the book.
- Gatsby’s big yellow car—right from the book.
- Gatsby’s initial boasts about his background are from the book, though in the movie he seems to add even wilder details.
- Gatsby’s encounter with the policeman where the policeman waves him by—directly from the book.
- Lunch with Meyer Wolfsheim is also largely from the book. But the decadent aura of the lunch establishment depicted in the movie is not explicitly from the book. Wolfsheim thinking at first that Nick has come for business is also from the book.
- Gatsby does say Wolfsheim fixed the 1919 World Series, which connects the Wolfsheim character in the novel to real-life gangster Arnold Rothstein.
- Tom shows up at the lunch in the book as well, and tells Nick that Daisy is furious he hasn’t called. But when Nick tries to introduce Gatsby to Tom, Gatsby disappears after they shake hands. No further contact takes place in the book. They do not exchange any words.
- Jordan Baker asking Nick to have Daisy over for tea so Gatsby can meet her there is from the book. Jordan tells the story of Gatsby and Daisy in Louisville before World War I—some of it word for word from the book. And Jordan tells Nick that Gatsby bought a house across the bay to be close to Daisy, hoping she might come to one of his parties—from the book.
- The meeting at Nick’s between Daisy and Gatsby is completely faithful to the book, including much of the dialogue. This also includes Gatsby’s desire to spruce up Nick’s property (though the movie adds a few extra touches) to Gatsby providing “a greenhouse” for the event. And Gatsby’s almost childish shyness, including leaving the house and returning drenched by the rain, is also directly from the book.
- The reconnection of Daisy and Gatsby and their going over to Gatsby’s home is faithful to the book, including the clippings Gatsby has collected about Daisy.
- James Gatz decides to become J. Gatsby—from the book. The Dan Cody story is also mostly faithful to the book, with Dan Cody helpful as a mentor to Gatz-now-Gatsby. In the book, Gatsby is cheated out of his inheritance from Cody by a woman, not by Cody’s family. I did not see anything in the book about Gatsby taking on the expression “old sport” from Cody.
- Tom and Daisy at one of Gatsby’s parties is right out of the book, including Gatsby calling Tom “the polo player” and Tom unhappy with the description.
- Daisy offering Tom a pen to take down addresses is from the book. (It is a great line.)
- I do not recall a “Mr. Slagle” waiting on the phone, or a man beaten up at Gatsby’s home, in the book.
- Gatsby wants Daisy to tell Tom that she never loved him, and then go back to Louisville and marry him—from the book. There is not a clear conflict in the book between what Daisy wants and what Gatsby wants from their relationship. But the line “of course you can” when Nick tells Gatsby he can’t relive the past is directly from the book.
- Gatsby ending the parties and firing all the servants is from the book. (Now that Gatsby has Daisy, the parties are no longer necessary.)
- The lunch with Nick, Jordan, Tom, Daisy and Gatsby is from the book. Daisy’s suggestion they go to town, and Tom’s suggestion that he drive Gatsby’s car is also straight from the book. Tom conveys the findings of his “investigations” of Gatsby to Nick and Jordan as they ride into town. (The implication is that Tom wanted to share this information with Jordan and Nick out of Gatsby’s hearing.) Also, Gatsby’s pink suit is explicitly described in the book.
- The scene with George Wilson at the gas station, with him saying he and his wife are moving, as well as his ominous declaration that he has “wised up,” is all from the book.
- Much of the action at the Plaza Hotel is from the book. Gatsby’s admission that he had been to Oxford, but had not been educated there, is from the book. Much of the dialogue is word for word, including Gatsby’s declaration that Daisy never loved Tom, with Daisy seeming to agree, then hedging. As in the movie, Tom suggests Gatsby drive Daisy back in his yellow car with the assurance that “he won’t annoy you…”
- There are two differences from the book for this Plaza Hotel scene: 1) Tom does not use the explicit phrase that Gatsby is a front for Meyer Wolfsheim (though he describes activities of Gatsby with Wolfsheim) and, 2) there is no loss of temper by Gatsby—he does not physically accost Tom and then apologize for losing his temper.
- Yes, Nick does recall that this is his 30th birthday.
- Gatsby’s car hitting Myrtle is from the book. The initial scene from the movie cleverly hides exactly who is driving—we later discover Daisy was the driver.
- Tom Buchanan seems to have a more malevolent attitude toward Gatsby in the movie. He tells George Wilson immediately that Gatsby owns the yellow car and seems to goad Wilson into taking action. He deliberately misleads Wilson into believing Gatsby had the affair with his wife. In the book, he does not give this information until the next day, when Wilson comes to his home pointing a gun at Tom. Wilson’s knowledge evolves and accumulates as he walks to Long Island from his home and investigates the driver of the yellow car. For me, the book’s approach to this had more poignancy. Tom’s behavior in the book is cowardly and negligent—in the movie, there is a malevolent intent.
- Gatsby hanging around Daisy’s home and explaining events to Nick is from the book. This includes Nick checking at the window and seeing Daisy and Tom talking calmly over a snack.
- Nick going into work and promising to call is from the book. This includes his parting comment to Gatsby: “They’re a rotten crowd… you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
- In the book, Nick and Gatsby’s gardener, chauffeur and butler discover Gatsby’s body at the pool. They find George Wilson’s body nearby. There is no telephone ringing at the moment Gatsby is shot (with Nick, and not Daisy on the line). We do not know Gatsby’s last words (so having him say “Daisy” at the end is not from the book).
- In the movie, we see Wilson putting the gun in his mouth. This is never explicitly stated in the book (but strongly implied).
- Daisy and Tom leaving town without communicating is from the book. In the movie, the tension is ratcheted up some by having a servant lying to Nick over the phone as the Buchanan family is leaving.
- Nick’s description of Daisy and Tom as “careless people… they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money…” is verbatim from the book.
- In the book, Gatsby’s funeral is also attended by very few—only a minister, Gatsby, and Gatsby’s father are there, joined by the man with the owlish glasses who had been admiring Gatsby’s library at one of his parties.
- The words that end the movie are the same that end the book, including the reference to the green light at the beginning of the second to the last paragraph.
The 1974 Movie
This movie version is also faithful to the basic story, with dialogue and narrative taken directly from the book. But this version is slower and less energetic compared to the 2013 movie. In these posts, I have generally refrained from much in the way of criticism or comments on reviews. But it is hard not to compare the two versions—too hard! I know critics have been tough on the 2013 movie for its excesses. But after watching the 1974 movie, which was routinely criticized for being slow and boring, we can understand that the 2013 filmmakers did not want to risk repeating those mistakes. In the 1974 movie, we also have a flat, sometimes wooden, statue-like performance from Robert Redford, who fits the part visually, maybe better than DiCaprio, but seems ill at ease with some of the lines he was delivering and the moments he was portraying. Also, Bruce Dern and Karen Black, for me, came off as creepy, instead of as a hulking athlete (the Tom Buchanan character) or a bored social-climbing housewife (the Myrtle Wilson character). Some of the music seemed to accentuate the creepy aspects of these characters portrayals. The 1974 movie was also slower to get us Gatsby’s back-story, with some of it not delivered at all. So, to sum up, the 2013 movie injects energy at every opportunity, some beyond what’s apparent in the book. The 1974 movie attempted a stylized version, with slow-developing scenes and lines delivered with a sometimes ponderous pace, attempting to bring out all the angst implied in the story.
Let’s take a closer look at the 1974 movie:
- The opening credits signal a quieter, slower, less frenetic pace for the 1974 movie. The music all appears to be from the time period of the book. In the 2013 movie, period-accuracy for the music is sacrificed to generate energy.
- The 1974 movie starts with the opening words of the novel.
- Nick Carraway drives to his initial meeting with Daisy and Tom in the book. He does not arrive on a boat as in the movie.
- Nick is a “struggling bond salesman” in both the book and the movie.
- Daisy’s reaction to hearing the name “Gatsby” during their first get-together, is depicted in the book and highlighted in both movies.
- Tom Buchanan’s reference to a book called The Rise of Colored Peoples is from the book.
- The green light across the bay gets more prominence in the 2013 movie. This movie certainly refers to it, and it is featured in the book as well.
- The extravagance portrayed in the film is certainly described in the book. The 2013 film takes this element of the novel to more extremes.
- The book also refers to few people being formally invited to Gatsby’s parties.
- The billboard with the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg staring out is faithfully portrayed from the book in both movies.
- Tom Buchanan’s shameless flaunting of his mistress in front of Nick—“I want you to meet my girl”—is word-for-word from the book.
- Myrtle’s dog and the episode at the apartment is largely from the book, with some dialogue in the movie word-for-word. The episode that ends with Tom hitting Myrtle is a little different than the book. There is no door-slamming or other event preceding Tom’s command for Myrtle not to say Daisy’s name. The hit is described as “a short deft movement.” This movie’s Tom Buchanan seems to put more effort into the blow. Afterwards, Myrtle’s broken nose is tended to with the help of the other women present. Tom seems uninvolved with the consequences of his actions in the book.
- In the book, Daisy Buchanan does say she will try to arrange for Nick and Jordan Baker to get married. But there is no comment about Nick having no money so it will have to be an affair. Nick does say “I’m too poor,” but this is in relation to being engaged to a woman back where he came from.
- Daisy saying she hoped her daughter would be a fool, that it is best for a girl to be a fool, is from the book.
- Jordan is described as a compulsively dishonest person in the book—Jordan moving her golf ball in the movie reflects that description.
- Gatsby’s chauffeur delivering an invitation to Nick is from the book.
- Jordan Baker does not say to Nick in the book: “Daisy has a craving for you.”
- The speculation about Gatsby’s background at the Gatsby party is from the book, some of it word-for-word.
- Nick’s first meeting with Gatsby is different in the movie than in the book. In the movie, Nick is summoned by a tough-looking, unfriendly man and silently brought to Gatsby who is observing the party alone. In the book, Nick has a substantial conversation with Gatsby before finding out who he is. This occurs during the party, with Jordan Baker next to him. In the book, it is Jordan Baker who is summoned to meet with Gatsby alone, to ask Nick to set tea with Daisy.
- The constant use of “old sport” by Gatsby is in the book and in both movies.
- Gatsby’s yellow car is in the book and both movies.
- Gatsby asking “what’s your opinion of me” is from the book. His untrue story of how his wealthy family is all dead and he has been educated at Oxford is also from the book.
- The Wolfsheim character, to me, in this movie, is more consistent with the way I pictured him from the book. The second movie has him swarthier, with more over-the-top traits. Much of the lunch scene in this movie is consistent with the book, including the description of Wolfsheim as a “gambler” who “fixed the 1919 World Series.”
- Tom bumping into Nick at the restaurant and telling him Daisy is furious that he hasn’t called is from the book and in both movies. Gatsby disappearing before he speaks to Tom is consistent with the book (and not with the second movie).
- Gatsby sprucing up Nick’s home and bringing in flowers before the Daisy/Gatsby meeting is in the book and both movies. So is Gatsby fleeing just before they meet, and then coming to the door after Daisy has entered and greeted Nick.
- Gatsby telling Nick his occupation is none of Nick’s business, then relenting after realizing he’s been rude, is from the book.
- Jordan Baker admitting she is a careless driver, but saying she will be fine because others are careful, is from the book.
- This movie makes no reference to Dan Cody, the wealthy yachtsman who is an important influence in Gatsby’s early adulthood.
- Gatsby commanding Klipsringer or to play the piano is from the book.
- I do not recall any scene of Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker at the Wilson gas station in the book.
- There are a few scenes in the movie where Gatsby challenges Daisy, asking why she married Tom, telling her he had promised to come back, reminding her she promised to write, that are not in the book. There is also the line “rich girls don’t marry poor boys”—not in the book. The dialogue is more direct between the characters in the movie than in the book. In the book, Daisy and Gatsby reconnect, and there is little second-guessing of the past.
- Much of the scene of Tom and Daisy going to a Gatsby party is from the book, including Tom unhappy with being called “the polo player” and Daisy offering to lend Tom pen and paper to take down addresses.
- “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”—straight from the book and in both movies.
- I do not recall any incident in the book when Daisy asks Gatsby to put on his old military uniform.
- The lights not going on in Gatsby’s house, and the servants dismissed, is from the book and in both movies. (This occurs right after Gatsby is convinced Daisy did not like the party she attended.)
- I do not recall any point in the book were someone says to Gatsby “they say you killed a man” and he answers with the question “just one?”
- The movie has more scenes with Daisy and Gatsby than the novel as their relationship develops (and these scenes seem to add to the overall effect of a slower, less energetic story).
- The hot day scene with Gatsby, Nick, Daisy, Tom and Jordan is from the book, with a number of scenes word-for-word.
- The car arrangements to go into town, with Tom driving Gatsby’s yellow car, is from the book and is preserved in both movies (this is essential to the climactic events of the story).
- Myrtle stares out from the window of the Wilson home, but does not break glass and draw blood in the book.
- The scene at the Plaza Hotel is largely from the book. In the 2013 movie, Gatsby loses his temper and apologizes. Nothing like that happens in the book or in this movie. In the book, Tom tells Gatsby to take Daisy back to town. This does not happen in either movie (and does not really make sense in the book). In this movie, Daisy and Gatsby just leave.
- Yes, Nick’s out-of-place statement that this day is his birthday is in the book and in both movies.
- Myrtle calls out to George just before she runs into the street in the book—there is no other confrontation just before the accident.
- The discovery of the accident by Tom, Nick and Jordan occurs in this movie the way it occurs in the novel. As in the book, Tom hears about the yellow car and understands the significance. But he does not tell anyone at the scene (as in the 2013 movie).
- Gatsby hides at the Buchanan home, as he does in the book. In the book, he tells Nick more quickly that Daisy caused the accident. As in the movie, he will not leave until he sure Daisy is okay.
- The scene of Michaelis (not named in the movie) trying to get George Wilson to talk to someone from a church is from the book.
- Wilson walking from the ash-heaps and gas station out to Long Island is from the book. Going to Tom’s home and using a revolver to force Tom to identify the yellow car owner/driver is from the book.
- Nick’s final words to Gatsby as he leaves him for the last time—“They’re rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”—is directly from the book.
- George Wilson killing himself after killing Gatsby is not explicit in the book, though strongly implied—and is depicted in both movies.
- Nick’s inability to reach Daisy after Gatsby’s death is from the book.
- Gatsby’s father, Henry C. Gatz, coming out for the funeral, is from the book. This is the first time in this movie that we get this authentic backstory for Gatsby. In the novel, Fitzgerald offers this earlier.
- Only three attend Gatsby’s funeral—Nick, Gatsby’s father and the minister—this is from the book. In the book, a man wearing owl-like glasses arrives separately.
- Nick’s confrontation with Tom a few months later and refusal to shake Tom’s hand is from the book. Nick learns here that Tom pointed Wilson in Gatsby’s direction allowing Wilson to believe Gatsby had killed his wife and had been his wife’s lover (though Tom still seems unaware Daisy is the one who killed Myrtle Wilson).
- The reference to Tom and Daisy as “careless people” who “smash things up” is straight from the narrative in the book.
- This movie ends with a reference to the green light, but not with the word-for-word ending as in the second movie.
Synopsis of The Great Gatsby
We meet Nick Carraway, the first-person narrator of the novel. He comes from privilege, but we find out quickly, less privilege than others in the story. He has come to New York to make a living in bonds. His father has agreed to finance him for a year. He takes a house in the “West Egg” area of Long Island Sound, an $80 a month property between two mansions. One of these mansions is owned by a wealthy man identified as “Gatsby.” Nick Carraway is from the Midwest. His family is prosperous, involved in the “wholesale hardware business.” He visits his cousin Daisy, who lives with her husband Tom Buchanan and their three-year-old daughter. They are extremely wealthy; Tom Buchanan is a former football player area and we learn quickly that he has a mistress, and has read a book about how the white race, “makers of civilization,” is in danger of losing its dominance to “colored” races. Daisy feels this idea has “depressed” him. Despite Daisy’s material comfort, she is clearly unhappy, but does not seem inclined to change her circumstances. Staying with them is a young professional athlete (we find out later she is a golfer) from the Midwest, Jordan Baker. The Buchanans hint at matching Jordan with Nick. After the visit, Nick returns home. He catches a quick glimpse of Gatsby outside his mansion, and at first wants to greet him. But Gatsby seems to want to be alone, and Nick does not follow through with meeting him at this time.
Nick Carraway reluctantly accompanies Tom Buchanan to meet Tom’s mistress. She is Myrtle Wilson married to George Wilson, a small time car dealer. The Wilsons live above the car business. Tom believes George Wilson is oblivious to the affair—Myrtle tells George she is visiting with her sister during their liaisons. Nick, Tom and Myrtle go to an apartment, a place away from home for Myrtle. Myrtle seems to transform into a grand lady of the manor at the apartment. They are joined by Myrtle’s sister Catherine and the McKees. Chester McKee is a photographer who discusses photographing Myrtle Wilson. Catherine finds out Nick Carraway lives in the West Egg area and mentions going to a party at Gatsby’s estate. She mentions a rumor that Gatsby’s wealth comes to him as a result of being a cousin or nephew of Kaiser Wilhelm. She says: “I’m scared of him. I’d hate to have him get anything on me.” Catherine mentions that Tom and Myrtle are both dissatisfied with their marriages and should get a divorce. Myrtle Wilson declares that Daisy will not allow a divorce because she is Catholic. Nick knows this is false. At the end of the evening, “toward midnight,” Nick becomes aware of an argument between Tom and Myrtle. Myrtle insists she will say Daisy’s name whenever she wants and shouts Daisy’s named repeatedly. Tom Buchanan breaks Myrtle Wilson’s nose with a “short, deft movement” of his open hand.
Nick Carraway attends a party at Gatsby’s home after Gatsby’s chauffer presents Nick with a written invitation. The party is lavish, with a full orchestra, and lots of food and drink. Few if any of the people at the party appear to have been given formal invitations. At first, Nick feels out of place, not knowing anyone. But he comes across Jordan Baker and joins her. Nick still wants to meet the host. He continues with Jordan as he mingles with party-goers, trying to connect with Gatsby. A man slightly older than him says he thinks he recalls Nick from the war. They seem to have served in the same general area. Nick says he is looking for Gatsby. It turns out he has been talking to Gatsby. Gatsby addresses Nick as “old sport” (and uses this form of address throughout the novel). Gatsby invites Nick to ride on a new hydrophone the following morning. At the party, speculation continues about Gatsby. Some say he killed a man. Gatsby takes calls from cities that pull him away from his guests in the middle of the festivities. But little solid information about him is apparent. Nick works during the week at the Probity Trust learning the bond business. He gets friendlier with Jordan Baker, but recognizes her faults—among other things, she seems to be almost pathologically dishonest.
Jay Gatsby pulls up to Nick Carraway’s home on a morning in “late July,” and asks him to lunch. Gatsby wants a favor, but won’t say exactly what it is. He describes his circumstances—he’s the last of a wealthy family from the “Middle West.” He later clarifies—San Francisco. Nick finds this story difficult to believe, but the details seem to ring true as Gatsby has props to corroborate them. Gatsby refers to “something very sad that had happened,” but does not go into specifics. He becomes a war hero—he says “then came the war, old sport. It was a great relief and I tried very hard to die, but I seem to bear an enchanted life.” He tells Nick that he heard Nick was taking Jordan Baker to tea and that his request has something to do with her. Nick has lunch with Jay Gatsby and Meyer Wolfsheim. Wolfsheim is a middle-aged Jewish man with an implied financial connection to Gatsby. Gatsby tells Nick that Wolfsheim fixed the 1919 “Black Sox” World Series. This meeting seems to corroborate more of Gatsby’s story. As lunch concludes, Nick sees Tom Buchanan. Tom approaches asking “Where’ve you been… Daisy’s furious because you haven’t called up.” As Nick turns to Gatsby after introducing them, Gatsby has disappeared. Nick meets with Jordan Baker. Jordan Baker tells Nick how she knew Daisy as an older more popular girl back in Louisville. She tells of seeing Daisy with a lieutenant in a car, “so engrossed with each other” that they did not notice her until she was five feet from the car. Jordan later hears a rumor that Daisy’s mother stopped Daisy from going to New York to “say good-bye to a soldier who was going overseas.” After the war, Daisy marries Tom Buchanan from Chicago, but after being engaged to a man from New Orleans. Daisy gets drunk on her wedding day—she normally does not drink. She is reluctant to follow through with the wedding, but she does. It becomes quickly obvious that Tom Buchanan is a compulsive womanizer. Jordan Baker tells Nick Carraway that Jay Gatsby has acquired the mansion close to Daisy, hoping to become reacquainted. He has been hoping she would drop by for one of his parties. He wants Nick to invite Daisy to his house, then have Gatsby come over. He wants Daisy to see his house. He does not want Daisy to know about him before the meeting. Nick is just supposed to invite her for tea. Nick does not address the request. He at this point is developing his own affection for Jordan Baker.
Jay Gatsby is waiting for Nick when he finally gets home. He wants to drive out to Coney Island. Nick says it is too late. But Nick agrees to ask Daisy for tea, and they agree on a date and time. Gatsby offers Nick a chance to make money—he does not specify how. Nick declines the offer. Later, when Gatsby says he earned enough money to buy his lavish home in just three years, Nick asks him how he makes his money. Gatsby at first says tersely this is his “own affair.” But he seems to realize the rudeness of his reply, and makes a vague comment about how he was in oil, and drugs, but is no longer in either one. The tea meeting, between Daisy and Gatsby starts out awkwardly. But the two reconnect at a deep level. Nick offers to leave them alone more than once—they decline. But he eventually does leave them alone; they have clearly rediscovered their previous attraction to each other.
We learn Jay Gatsby is James Gatz from North Dakota, the son of “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people.” Gatsby never feels they could be his parents, and develops grandiose ideas of who he should be. He leaves a college where he is working as a janitor to pay his way. He drifts around the coast of Lake Superior when he happens across millionaire miner Dan Cody. He spends five years as a sort of personal assistant to the man. They travel “three times around the continent” on Cody’s yacht. Cody dies suddenly (he is around fifty years old at the time), a week after a lady friend of Cody’s, Ella Kaye, comes on board. Gatsby is supposed to inherit $25,000, but “what remained of the millions went intact to Ella Kaye.” Gatsby never understands “the legal device that was used against him.” At this point, we are still not clear how James Gatz/Jay Gatsby has access to the wealth he expends so conspicuously at his West Egg mansion. Gatsby interacts socially with Tom Buchanan. Buchanan and some friends ride to his estate and stay briefly for refreshments (Daisy is not with them). Daisy and Tom come to one of Gatsby’s parties, but Daisy does not seem to enjoy herself. Gatsby refers to Tom as a “polo player,” though Tom is not a polo player and says “pleasantly” that he’d “a little rather not be the polo player.” Gatsby wants Daisy to tell Tom she never loved him. He wants to “go back to Louisville and get married in her house—just as if it were five years ago.” When Nick tells him he can’t repeat the past, Gatsby replies “why of course you can!”
On a Saturday night, Nick notices the lights at Gatsby’s house have not come on. He goes next door and discovers the servants have been fired and the place is a mess. New servants have been brought who are affiliated with Meyer Wolfsheim. He asks Gatsby if he is moving. Gatsby tells him he wants servants who won’t gossip—Daisy visits him “quite often” in the afternoons. Daisy invites Nick over to her home the following day for lunch. This turns out to be a brutally hot day, and turns into a dramatic confrontation. Nick, Tom, Daisy, Gatsby and Jordan Baker eat lunch together at Daisy’s home. Daisy suggests they drive into town, and baits Tom by stating her affection for Gatsby. Tom suggests he drive Gatsby’s yellow car while Gatsby takes Tom’s coupe. Gatsby reluctantly agrees. Nick and Jordan go with Tom; Daisy goes with Gatsby. On the drive, Tom tells Jordan and Nick he has investigated Gatsby. They end up at George Wilson’s gas station for gas. George Wilson is sick, and tells Tom he and his wife are going to leave town because he is now “wised-up” about something. Nick suspects George Wilson has discovered his wife’s affair, but doesn’t know who she is having the affair with. Nick, Daisy, Tom, Jordan and Gatsby all get together at the parlor of a suite in the Plaza Hotel near Central Park. After some chit-chat, Tom confronts Gatsby. Gatsby acknowledges he visited Oxford and that he was never a student there. When Tom asks if he is an “Oxford man,” he replies “not exactly.” Nick views this as favoring Gatsby’s credibility. Tom calls Gatsby “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere.” Gatsby tells Tom he has something to tell him. Daisy suspects what it is and tries to deflect the discussion. But Gatsby tells Tom that Daisy has never loved him. Jordan and Nick try to leave, but Tom and Gatsby ask them to stay. Daisy reluctantly admits Gatsby is right, but then, with some prompting from Tom, says she did love Tom, that she loved them both at one time. Tom insists Daisy won’t leave him for a “common swindler.” He says his investigations have revealed that one of Gatsby’s businesses was Gatsby and Wolfsheim selling grain alcohol at “side-street drug-stores” in Chicago. Tom hints at another business that is much larger, that his source is afraid to talk about. Tom tells Gatsby and Daisy to leave in Gatsby’s car. He says Gatsby won’t “annoy” her, that Tom thinks “he realizes that his presumptuous little flirtation is over.” As Tom drives back with Jordan and Nick, they come upon a car accident near George Wilson’s gas station. They find out Myrtle Wilson has been hit by a car, a large yellow car, Gatsby’s car. George Wilson had locked Myrtle in their home until their planned move. She apparently saw the yellow car and ran out in the street trying to get someone’s attention, thinking she knew the people in the car and that they could help her. Nick returns with Tom and Jordan to Daisy’s home. Tom calls for a taxi for Nick. As Nick waits for the cab, Gatsby appears. He tells Nick that Daisy was driving the car, and Gatsby had tried to get her to stop, but Daisy had kept on driving after the accident. Gatsby seems to think they’ve gotten away. Gatsby is going to wait until Daisy and Tom go to sleep before leaving. Daisy has agreed to lock herself in her room and turn her light on and off if Tom tries any “brutality.” Nick goes to the window and sees Tom and Daisy in the kitchen sitting together having a snack and talking. He tells Gatsby the situation appears peaceful, but Gatsby insists he will stay.
Nick has trouble sleeping. “Toward dawn,” he hears a taxi bringing Gatsby home. He goes to Gatsby who tells him the light went out at Daisy’s home without incident. Nick tells Gatsby he should leave the area as someone is sure to trace the car back to him. But Gatsby won’t leave until he is clear on what Daisy is going to do. At this time, Gatsby tells Nick the true story of his background. He tells how a poor young man with a manufactured, phantom past, worked his way into Daisy’s affections under false pretenses, implying he was a man of means. He tells Nick how they fell in love and started a relationship. Daisy comes from money, and this is part of the attraction for Gatsby. He goes off to war and distinguishes himself. But after the war, instead of being sent home, Gatsby is mistakenly sent to Oxford. Daisy grows confused and impatient, and marries Tom Buchanan. Gatsby gets a letter from Daisy while still in at Oxford. He comes back to Kentucky, penniless, with Tom and Daisy already on their honeymoon. Nick does not want to leave Gatsby, but after missing a few trains into the city eventually does go into work. He promises Gatsby a call. Gatsby says “do, old sport,” and says he expects Daisy will call also. Nick doesn’t seem so sure: “I suppose so.” Jordan Baker calls Nick at work. Nick has clearly lost interest in her. Nick cannot get Gatsby on the phone—the line is busy. When he calls the phone company, they tell him the line is open for a call from Detroit. At this point in the narrative, Nick goes back to events that occurred in the aftermath of the accident. About 3:00 in the morning, George Wilson announces he has a way of finding out the owner of the yellow car. He mentions the time his wife came home with a swollen nose and bruised face. George Wilson concludes that the owner of the yellow car murdered his wife (and by implication was the one having the affair with her). Michaelis, a man who runs a nearby “coffee joint,” has been trying to calm and comfort Wilson, suggesting he contact a friend, or someone from his church, to help them. But Wilson seems more and more fixated on the man driving the yellow car. Michaelis finally leaves at 6:00 in the morning. When Michaelis returns four hours later, Wilson is gone. Wilson walks from his home to Long Island. Nick now refers to police reconstructions of Wilson’s movements. A few hours of his journey are not accounted for. But by 2:30 that following afternoon, Wilson is in West Egg asking for Gatsby. Gatsby is at the pool at his home, still waiting for a phone call from Daisy. His chauffer hears shots but “hadn’t thought anything much about them.” Nick arrives at Gatsby’s home and triggers “the chauffer, butler and gardener” going to the pool. They find Gatsby and Wilson dead.
Conclusions about the shootings seem to be that Wilson was a man “deranged by grief.” Nothing is said explicitly, but we’re left to conclude that Wilson killed himself after killing Gatsby. Nick finds himself actually sympathetic to Gatsby and seems to be one of the few who is. He calls Daisy, but finds out she and Tom have left town with no forwarding address. Nick calls Wolfsheim, but Wolfsheim evades the call. Nick sends him a letter. Wolfsheim responds saying he is shocked but “cannot get mixed up in this thing” because of “very important business.” Nick picks up Gatsby’s phone and takes a mysterious call referring to bonds, implying a scheme gone awry. When Nick says he is not Gatsby, that Gatsby is dead, the line disconnects abruptly. Henry C. Gatz, Gatsby’s father, sends a telegram that he is coming. The funeral is postponed until he arrives. Gatz has seen the news about his son’s death in a Chicago newspaper. The morning of the funeral, Nick visits Wolfsheim to see if he is coming to the funeral. We learn that Wolfsheim, an organized crime figure based on Arnold Rothstein (an obvious conclusion from the earlier “Black Sox” reference) got Gatsby his start and helped him attain his wealth. Wolfsheim declines to come to the funeral. Gatsby’s father tells Nick that Gatsby was always generous with him, and that from a young age, Gatsby seemed destined to accomplish a lot. Only Nick, Gatsby’s father, the minister, and a handful of servants attend the funeral, joined by one party-goer Nick recognizes, a man Nick saw admiring Gatsby’s library during a party. Daisy does not communicate in any way with anyone. Nick leaves New York and returns home. Jordan Baker and Nick break completely; Jordan becomes engaged to someone else. Nick comes across Tom Buchanan the following October. Tom tells him that when George Wilson came to visit him, pointing a revolver at him, Tom told Wilson that Gatsby owned the yellow car. Tom Buchanan says Gatsby “had it coming” because of the way he ran down Myrtle Wilson. It seems Tom Buchanan felt no obligation to correct the obvious implication that Gatsby was the man having an affair with Myrtle Wilson. Nor did he apparently feel any obligation to warn Gatsby that Wilson may be coming, or to call the police and let them know of the danger. So we learn Tom Buchanan put George Wilson onto Jay Gatsby, leading to Gatsby’s murder.
August 4, 2013 – Comments on the Made-for-TV “The Great Gatsby” Granada Entertainment/A and E Television
This is a quick addition to my previous Books-Into-Movies post on the two most recent theatrical releases of “The Great Gatsby” movies. What I’m adding is a few notes on the lesser-known television production of “The Great Gatsby,” released in 2000. I’m not going into a lot of detail here; just a few comparison comments. By the way, I think this production compares favorably to the others. I actually preferred Toby Stephens’ Gatsby to the boyishness of Leonardo DiCaprio and the woodeness of Robert Redford. And Mira Sorvino is more of the Daisy I pictured as I read the book—stunning and alluring enough to generate the Gatsby obsession that makes this story. My comparison comments will focus mainly on deviations from the story in the novel:
- We see the Gatsby murder at his pool at the beginning of this movie, like a stunning mystery foisted on the audience right away. (This is likely designed to grab television audiences and prevent viewers from activating their remotes.)
- There is a flashback to Daisy and Gatsby meeting for the first time, placed very early in the story, before Nick even goes to Gatsby’s home for the first time. This story-information comes much later in the book, and the exact details of their meeting are invented. There are numerous flashbacks to this part of the story—Daisy and Gatsby before Gatsby goes off to World War I.
- “Old sport” —it’s in the book and prominently featured in every movie version!
- This version dramatizes the developing chemistry between Jordan Baker and Nick Carraway more than the other two movie versions.
- As in the book, we see Wilson shoot Gatsby, and then hear a second shot offscreen. At first, we are left to conclude Wilson has killed himself (as in the book). Then we see Wilson’s body with a head wound to confirm the obvious conclusion.
- In this version, Nick finds bonds police investigators are looking for and destroys them, attempting to preserve Gatsby’s reputation. This is not in the book.
Previous Books-Into-Movies posts (in reverse chronological order):
I still have one or two posts from my old (and discontinued) Books-Into-Movies blog that I have not posted here yet. Look for them in September.
Tags: baseball, Bernard Malamud, book commentary, book synopsis, books compared to movies, books into movies, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Robert Redford, Roy Hobbs, sports novels, The Natural
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The Major League baseball season begins today. In honor of the occasion, I am offering a bonus Books-Into-Movies post for “The Natural.” (If you’d like to read another baseball-related post, check out my Books-Into-Movies post on “Moneyball.”)
The movie “The Natural” is significantly different from the novel The Natural. The book is darker—the story is tragic not heroic. The Roy Hobbs appears to reader as a person hampered with unattractive flaws. I suspect the majority of people who will read this post have seen the movie, probably more than have read book. So I will address the movie chronologically. There are so many points of difference to comment on that this approach seems to be the most systematic and efficient way to approach the comparison.
The chronological structure of both the book and the movie are essentially the same:
- The opening scene of the movie shows a young Roy Hobbs coached by his father (flashing back from a glimpse of Hobbs on the train). The book portrays a difficult childhood for Roy Hobbs, with his mother cheating on his father, and Roy growing up essentially as an orphan.
- The story of the bat “Wonderboy,” complete with the musical instrument case, is from the book.
- Young Roy Hobbs’ romance before he goes to Chicago to try out for the Cubs is not in the book. The Iris character is very different in the book (which I will address in more detail as the chronology unfolds).
- Roy Hobbs’ doubts, expressed to young Iris, are not in the book. He tells people on the train that he expects to be the best baseball player there ever was.
- Max Mercy referring to a story about a woman shooting an athlete is from the book.
- Sam Simpson, the scout promoting Roy Hobbs and riding with him on the train, is from the book. Simpson is an old retired ball-player, a drunk trying to use his discovery of Hobbs to get him a regular scouting assignment with the Cubs. The initial encounter with Mercy, Simpson, and “the Whammer” is from the book, with much of the dialogue preserved.
- The match-up between Hobbs and “the Whammer” is largely taken from book. This includes the attention from the psychotic Barbara Hershey character Harriet Bird who shifts her interest from “the Whammer” to Roy Hobbs.
- In the book, Malamud describes Hobbs’ pitches as more than just fast—they have a quality of disappearing as they approach.
- “The Whammer” though clearly a Babe-Ruthish character, has blond hair in the book.
- Max Mercy’s push to get background information on Hobbs after the Hobbs-“Wammer” confrontation is from the book.
- Harriet Bird’s fixation on male heroes is from the book.
- In the book, Sam Simpson becomes ill on the train. The book implies he was injured while catching Roy Hobbs pitches during the Hobbs-“Whammer” test of skills. He is taken off the train on a stretcher after telling Hobbs to go to the hotel—“overhead the stars were bright but he knew he dead.”
- Harriet Bird shooting Hobbs in her hotel room is from the book.
The flash forward to the New York Knights dugout after the shooting is taken directly from the book:
- “I should have been a farmer” from manager Pop Fisher, spoken to his coach Red, starts the next section of the book. The New York Knights’ futility is also taken directly from the book.
- Hobbs’s arrival mid game is also from the novel, with much of the dialogue preserved including the line about the “Salvation Army band.” But Pop Fisher is not as harsh to Hobbs during this beginning contact as he is in the movie. He apologizes for his initial grumpiness and does not declare to Red shortly after their first meeting that he won’t play Hobbs. In fact, instead of being suspicious that Hobbs was sent by the Knights’ chief scout, this is a positive in Pop Fisher’s mind. Hobbs is signed as a replacement for a player who has been hit on the head with a flyball and “paralyzed in both legs.”
- In the book, Bump Baily is an egotistical jerk as in the movie—selfish, putting himself ahead of the Knights. But the book has time to fill out his character—he is a great individual player, leading the league in hitting, and he is a prankster who charms his teammates with this form of humor. He pulls some annoying pranks on Hobbs the first day Hobbs is there. Bump and Hobbs come to blows when Bump takes a hacksaw to Hobbs’ bat “Wonderboy.”
- In the book, Hobbs takes batting practice his first full day of practice with the team and hammers the second pitch out of the park. (The first pitch is at Hobbs head, sending him to the dirt, when Hobbs crowds the plate.) The next two pitches leave the park. Pop then takes the bat to check it, but he and Red are thrilled with the idea of Hobbs playing. “Pop suddenly felt so good, tears came to his eyes and he had to blow his nose.” Hobbs also looks good in the field during this first day of practice.
- The falling out between Hobbs and Pop Fisher occurs when Hobbs won’t cooperate with the hypnotist who comes in before the first game after Hobbs’ arrival. Pop orders Hobbs to participate—Hobbs refuses: “You signed a contract to obey orders…” “…not to let anybody monkey around in my mind.” Hobbs’ defiance has Fisher swearing Hobbs will never play for him. In my opinion, the movie’s scenario makes more sense. With the talent demonstrated by Hobbs right away, it seems difficult to believe a manager who wants and needs to win so badly would make such Draconian decision based on this incident.
- The book has a character Otto Zipp, a “dwarf” who is a fanatic fan of Bump Baily. Zipp roots less enthusiastically for Hobbs and turns on Hobbs during his slumps. There is no Otto Zipp character in the movie.
- Memo Paris, Pop Fisher’s niece, is described as a “sad, spurned lady.” She is Bump Baily’s girl, and Bailey treats her with casual disrespect. Hobbs is infatuated with her looks and waits for his opportunity.
- Hobbs’ introduction to the lineup occurs differently in the book. “On the morning of the twenty-first of June,” Pop tells Hobbs he is going to the minors. Hobbs tells Pop he is “quitting baseball anyway.” But the same day, the hypnotist comes in and suggests Pop should also be hypnotized to address his “hysterical behavior.” Pop blows up and fires the hypnotist. During that day’s game, Bump misplays a ball in the field (no reference to sun in the book). Pop orders Hobbs to pinch-hit for Bump during the next half-inning.
- “Knock the cover off the ball” is from the book.
- As in the movie, Bump Bailey now feels the pressure to elevate his performance and runs into a wall while chasing a fly ball. He breaks his skull and dies. Roy Hobbs takes his place in the lineup.
- Hobbs is instantly successful (as in the movie). Pop seems dubious—“I mistrust a bad ball hitter.” But Red calls Hobbs “a natural.”
- The conflict between Judge Goodwill Banner, part team owner, and Pop Fisher, team manager and part team owner, is different in the book. Banner has agreed Fisher can manage the team for life, but wants to maneuver him into quitting his management role so wants the team to be unsuccessful to make Fisher’s ouster easier.
- Hobbs’ low salary is an early issue in the book, with media writing about the injustice of it. In the book, Hobbs asks to meet with the judge and asks for a raise. As in the movie, the judge lurks in the dark. He not only refuses any salary increase, but tells Hobbs he owes the team for the cost of his uniform, replaced after it is destroyed by Bump Baily during a prank. In the movie, the judge asks to see Hobbs. The conversation is very different. The judge offers more money, implying Hobbs should perform worse to help the judge reach his goal of ousting Fisher. Hobbs turning on the light as he leaves the meeting is not in the book.
- Max Mercy poking around trying to find out more about Hobbs is from the book.
- In the book, Max Mercy introduces Hobbs to bookie Gus Sands at a “nightclub with a girly show.” Memo Paris is at the table with Sands when they meet. The initial meeting between Sands and Hobbs is similar to the book.
- In the book, Hobbs has a prodigious appetite for food. (This factors into key events toward the end.)
- The relationship between Memo Paris and Roy Hobbs is edgier, more complex in the book. Memo is more distant to Roy in the book. Hobbs chases her after Bump Baily’s death. She has some problem with her breast. When he touches her she tells him it hurts. He points out he was gentle and she says “it’s sick.” During an encounter between them, Memo drives a car at ninety miles per hour and appears to commit hit-and-run on a pedestrian (though this is not certain as they flee the scene before confirming Hobbs’ trepidations).
- There are no pitching incidents with Hobbs and the Knights in the book—no injury as in the movie when Hobbs extends himself to throw a hard pitch while showing off to his teammates.
- In the book, Pop Fisher warns Hobbs about getting involved with his niece: “She was my sister’s girl and I do love her, but she is always dissatisfied and will snarl you up in her troubles…”
- As in the movie, the Hobbs of the novel goes into a slump when he gets “snarled” with Memo Paris. In the book, Memo Paris seems to be avoiding him. She does get him to see a fortune-teller Bump used when he slumped. Pop benches Hobbs when he won’t give up using “Wonderboy,” which Pop thinks is causing the slump.
- The “lady in the red dress” (white in the movie), Iris, first appears in the book during Hobbs’ slump. She stands up and looks for Hobbs. The Iris character is totally different in the book. She has no relationship with Hobbs before he joins the Knights. She is young, but also has a grown daughter who has a child (her daughter is not fathered by Hobbs). The home run that brings Hobbs out of the slump does not shatter a clock in the book, but somehow rises through the pitcher’s legs to go over the fence. She develops a relationship with Hobbs after her presence reverses his slump. But Hobbs finds the idea of anything permanent with her repugnant—he is disgusted with the idea of a relationship with a “grandmother.” He seems inexplicably drawn to the troubled Memo Paris.
- All of the “Iris” interaction in the movie is obviously different from the book. There is no reunion and no discovery of a son.
- As in the movie, the pennant race comes down to the wire in the book, riding the roller coaster of Hobbs’ shifting performance, seemingly related to his interaction with Memo Paris.
- In the book, Hobbs imagines settling down with Memo Paris in a domestic, husband-wife type situation. He knows this is unrealistic because Memo does not seem suited to that sort of life, and he has only a small salary and a short career ahead of him.
At this point, the book diverges significantly from the movie:
- In the book, on the verge of an important end-of-the-season series, Hobbs overeats at a premature victory party hosted by Memo Paris and financed by Gus Sands. He ends up in the hospital where medical personnel find his damaged abdominal area. Roy finds out another season is not possible and even another game this season could be difficult.
- In the book, from his hospital bed, Roy proposes marriage to Memo. She admits she is afraid to be poor and suggests he buy into a company. She delivers a message from Gus—Hobbs can get money to buy into a company from Gus if he will “drop” the key game for the Knights. The judge visits him and offers him $25,000 to make sure the Knights lose the decisive game. Hobbs at first refuses. But he counters at $35,000. The judge balks, but accepts. Hobbs confirms to Judge Banner: “The fix is on.”
- In the book, there is no reference by the judge to the shooting years before as in the movie. And in the movie, Hobbs does not confirm the arrangement even though the judge drops an envelope of money on him in his hospital bed. In the movie, Hobbs returns the money before the key game, completely contrary to what happens in the book.
- Hobbs keeps his promise to throw the game in the book. He deliberately strikes out in his first at-bat. In his second at-bat, he walks, keeping his promise not to “hit safely.” The third time up, he deliberately lines foul balls at Otto Zipp where Zipp sits is in the stands booing Hobbs relentlessly. One of the balls bounces up and hits Iris, who has been standing nearby. She’s taken away by ambulance. Hobbs strikes out after that but not before he splits “Wonderboy” when hitting another foul ball. (In the movie, “Wonderboy also breaks. But the batboy brings a new bat to Hobbs when he asks the boy to “pick out a winner.” With the new bat, with blood seeping from his old wound, Hobbs smacks the decisive homerun busting into the lights, to heroic fanfarish music—none of this is in the book.) In the book, on the last at-bat, Pop Fisher scans the bench for a pinch-hitter. Hobbs begs him to go into the game. The Iris incident seems to be changing his mind about keeping his promise to throw the game. But he strikes out again.
- Hobbs’ world falls apart at the end of the novel. Word gets out that Hobbs has thrown the game for money. Max Mercy also publishes pictures of Hobbs, shot “at nineteen.” Memo bitterly tells Roy she has hated him from the day Bump died, that she considers him responsible for Bump’s death. At the end, reminiscent of the Black Sox scandal, a boy implores to Hobbs “say it ain’t true, Roy.” And Hobbs looks in the boy’s eyes but cannot lie: “…he lifted his hands to his face and wept many bitter tears.” This ends the novel. The movie’s the final scene has Hobbs with his newly discovered son and rediscovered Iris in a tranquil scene of quiet success and fulfillment, a dramatically different ending.
The Roy Hobbs of the novel The Natural is a tragic figure, talented but flawed—a man who makes poor choices in his love life and sells out his integrity. This is far different from the heroic character played by Robert Redford in the movie. The film-makers can be forgiven for making the changes they did to give the movie a more upbeat conclusion. It is doubtful this movie would have been an audience favorite if the story had ended the same way as the book did.
Previous Books-Into-Movies posts (in reverse chronological order):
Tags: Anna Karenina, book commentary, book synopsis, books compared to movies, books into movies, Leo Tolstoy, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books
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Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina” is largely faithful to the epic-length classic novel by Leo Tolstoy. The book is just short of 350,000 words so many choices had to be made. The choice to focus the majority of attention on the Anna Karenina storyline effectively trims a significant portion of the book that focuses on character Konstantin Levin. Wright also spends less time on details in the lives of peripheral characters, and leaves out entire characters. And out of necessity, he stays clear of Tolstoy’s long discussions of Russian contemporary issues and the inner spiritual reflections of the characters. (These aspects, of course, deepen the richness of the novel, but would be difficult to film without voiceovers or long-winded, on-camera discussions, both bound to be unpopular with contemporary movie audiences.) These choices allow Wright to keep most of the essential elements of the Anna Karenina storyline.
Another cinematic choice Wright makes is to use a stage-play framework that allows him to flip scenes quickly, with little exposition. This approach gives the story a sometimes surreal quality, allowing diversions into character interiors at choice moments. The stage-play framework also allows Wright to hint at Tolstoy’s satirical elements, like the robotic bureaucracy scene. And it also allows us to view the horse race with close-up, personal views of the characters and their reactions to events.
Some Tolstoy background is of interest before I get to specifics of the movie:
- Tolstoy viewed the corpse of a woman named Anna Pirogova, the mistress of a neighbor of Tolstoy’s, who had thrown herself under a train after her lover ended their relationship. So not only does the movie accurately portray this event from the book, but the event is based on a true occurrence witnessed (the aftermath was witnessed) by Tolstoy himself.
- Konstantin Levin is clearly autobiographical, containing 1) specific events from Tolstoy’s own courtship of his wife, 2) Tolstoy’s own efforts to manage his estate after the liberation of the serfs in 1863 and amidst the turbulent changes in Russian society, bubbling with political and revolutionary thinking and 3) Tolstoy’s public conversion to Christianity not long after Anna Karenina.
- The novel was offered at first in installments (as was War and Peace, word count around 587,000). This explains how the public could initially digest the length of these novels, offered to the public in smaller, more manageable sections. The final section, Part Eight, was not offered by his publisher; Tolstoy had to bring it out himself at his own expense. (Little of Part Eight from the novel is dramatized in the movie.)
- Tolstoy does go for satire with some of the peripheral characters. Wright seems to make an effort to capture this tone with the rigid choreography depicting the bureaucracy Oblonsky works for, possibly functioning as comic relief. But in the movie, for my taste, this seems joltingly out of place considering the larger, life-changing struggles of the main characters.
While Wright does stay true to the basic story, he uses stylistic diversions and invented scenes to sharpen and condense the plot, and for efficient exposition of the characters. The novel is lengthy with many strands of character and plot. As with my other Books-Into-Movies posts, I will pick and choose comparison points that I find interesting (and so anticipate readers will find interesting as well). I will not attempt to comment on every difference (or similarity). I invite readers to offer their comments if they feel I missed something. I will then end this post with a synopsis that attempts to offer highlights of the book, not an incident by incident description, and that focuses on characters and plot depicted in the movie.
Comparison points between the book and the movie:
- The start of the movie, with back-and-forth cuts among principal characters, is not explicitly in the book, but is faithful to the basic story and serves to set it up. There is no statement from Alexey to Anna that “sin has a price, you may be sure of that” before she goes to visit her brother.
- Anna’s meeting with Vronsky’s mother on the train is straight from the book.
- The worker at the train station mangled by a train, with the aftermath witnessed by Anna, and with Vronsky handing out money for the family of the worker, is also directly from the book.
- Konstantin Levin’s failed marriage proposal and Kitty’s awkward rejection is from the book.
- Anna Karenina convincing “Dolly”/Darya to forgive Anna’s brother, Stepan/“Stiva” Oblonsky, is directly from the book and brings us a conspicuous irony to start this story.
- Vronsky’s flirtation with Kitty, abandoned when he becomes infatuated with Anna at the ball, is right from the book. Kitty definitely feels hate for Anna after the ball. The movie’s phasing into Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky dancing alone and focused on each other captures the story’s essence.
- Levin’s brother Nikolay, the sickly revolutionary, is from the book. An elder brother of Levin’s, a politician, is not portrayed in the film.
- Alexey’s impersonal, detached persona is directly from the book.
- Vronsky’s pursuit of Anna with her initial reluctance, asking him to stop his attentions, is from the book. But as in the book, Anna does not really want him to stop, and when put on the spot, cannot banish him from her life. The interior monologue of the Anna character in the book has her disappointed, even pained, when she goes to an event and he is not there even though she has asked him to stop his attentions.
- In the novel, Tolstoy only gives us an oblique indication that Count Vronsky and Anna Karenina have consummated their relationship. There are no explicit sex scenes in the novel.
- “Stiva” Oblonsky’s visit to Levin in the country is from the book.
- In the book, Kitty leaves town with her family because of illness after her disappointment with Count Vronsky. This is not depicted in the movie. An entire section of the book, with Kitty in Germany, is not depicted in the movie.
- The events of the horse race, including Vronsky taking a fall (in the book, clearly as a result of his own negligence) with Anna screaming out and the horse destroyed as a result of a broken back is straight from the book.
- The carriage scene with Anna confessing she is Vronsky’s mistress is similar to the book. In the book, Anna does not mention the child. And in the book, Alexey’s reaction comes in two stages. The movie condenses his reaction. In the book, Alexey says he will communicate with her—“as I may take measures to secure my honor and communicate them to you.” He tells her in a later letter that she should return to him, that he assumes she has “repented… of what has called forth the present letter.” The letter has the same emotionless detachment present in the Alexey character.
- Konstantin Levin cutting grass with the peasants at his estate is directly from the book.
- The scene with Alexey seizing Anna’s letters and telling her he will “take measures to put an end to the state of things” after Alexey sees Count Vronsky has visited Anna at their home against his wishes is straight from the book.
- The scene with the blocks, during which Kitty and Konstantin Levin come together is similar to the book—in the book, the letters are written on a chalkboard, but with very similar results. Both seem to know what words the starting letters refer to as they go back and forth. It is as if they are seeing their situation with one mind, with one heart. It is a sweet scene in both the book and the movie.
- “Dolly”/Darya tries to convince Alexey to forgive Anna in the book as well, prevailing upon Alexey’s Christian beliefs.
- Anna contacting Alexey indicating she is ill is from the book. His reluctance to go to her, followed by his visit to her and ultimately reconciling with her when she recovers is also from the book. However, in the book, Vronsky, humiliated by the affair’s developments, shoots himself in the chest. So Vronsky is also in a state of compromised health. The result is the same—they are to part permanently, with Vronsky prepared to take a post away from the city and Anna initially refusing to see him even to say good-bye. But they cannot stay away from each other, and renew the relationship again. In the book, they leave the area and travel abroad, living together in Italy for a brief period.
- Kitty insisting on nursing Konstantin Levin’s dying brother is from the book, but takes place in Moscow, not at Levin’s country estate. In fact, they quarrel over whether Kitty will go to Moscow with Levin, but when she insists, he agrees.
- Anna seeing her son on his birthday against Alexey’s wishes is from the book. But some details are different. Anna’s son has been told in the book that Anna is dead. This certainly factors in to Alexey’s decision to refuse Anna’s request. And in the book, Anna sneaks into her old home in the morning, getting past a servant who does not know her, as opposed to barging in as she does in the movie. In the book and movie, Alexey’s silent presence causes Anna to run out of the room.
- Anna does indulge in opium/morphine in the book, as also shown in the movie.
- Anna goes to the opera and is snubbed socially, as in the book. Vronsky disbelieves that Anna has decided to go to the opera and does not understand her position well enough to know how awkward her attendance will be. In the book, Vronsky also does not go at first, and arrives in the middle of the opera to discover what has occurred.
- “Dolly”/Darya, in the book as in the movie, is one of only a few of Anna’s old friends who welcome her and remains affectionate with her.
- Anna’s irrational jealousies are straight from the book. She constantly questions whether or not Vronsky continues to love her.
- In the movie, Alexey remains indecisive about the divorce. In the book, after some indecision, he refuses to grant the divorce he offered earlier in the story.
- Vronsky does leave after yet another quarrel—what turns out to be their final quarrel—after which Anna says “…you will be sorry for this.” She visits “Dolly”/Darya and has an awkward interaction with Kitty who is in town after having her first child. Kitty is not directly rude to Anna, but is clearly not affectionate toward her or even comfortable with her.
- As in the book, Anna rides the train for awhile, then kills herself by throwing herself onto the tracks. In the book, she seems to have last-moment second thoughts, but it is too late.
- Part Eight of Anna Karenina concerns mainly a debate between Konstantin Levin and his older brother over a war Count Vronsky is reportedly going to fight, a war between Serbs and Turks that does not directly involve the Russian government. This section also concerns Konstantin Levin’s emerging embrace of Christianity (coinciding with Tolstoy’s own real-life experience). We do get a brief summing up when Konstantin Levin’s older brother encounters Count Vronsky and his mother on a train. There we learn Vronsky became ill after Anna’s death and now says “… as a weapon I may be of some use. But as a man, I am a wreck.” Alexey brings Anna Karenina’s and Count Vronsky’s child into his family as we see portrayed in the film. In the book we get the impression that he feels he has no choice. In the movie we see him smiling with his son and Anna’s daughter interacting, a slightly different take on Alexey’s reaction. Levin’s statement to Kitty that he had realized something profound, but with him deciding not to elaborate on it with her, is straight from the book, and ends the book as it also ends the movie.
Synopsis of Anna Karenina
(As indicated previously, this is not a comprehensive or even totally chronological synopsis. The focus of the synopsis is on describing the main events as offered by Tolstoy in the novel. I have mainly concerned us with characters and events depicted in the movie, though I do mention aspects of the book that are prominent, but not offered in the movie. The main purpose of this synopsis is to aid in the comparison of the book to the Joe Wright movie, and not to provide a definitive synopsis of the entire novel.)
Anna Karenina travels to Moscow from Petersburg to help her brother, Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky who has cheated on his wife Darya/“Dolly” Alexandrovna. Anna is successful in convincing Darya/“Dolly” to forgive her brother. While traveling to Moscow, she rides with the mother of a dashing military man, Count Alexey Vronsky. While in Moscow, Anna attends a ball that Count Vronsky also attends. Count Vronsky becomes infatuated with Anna Karenina, who is married to a high-ranking, but not particularly dynamic nor emotional husband. She has an eight-year-old son. Anna attempts to distance herself from Vronsky, but he communicates his attraction to her.
We also meet Konstantin Levin, an awkward man from the country who owns a prosperous agricultural estate. He has business with Oblonsky, and also comes to Moscow to make a marriage offer to Kitty, Darya’s/“Dolly’s” younger sister. Kitty turns down Levin’s proposal; she is hoping for a marriage offer from Count Vronsky who has been paying attention to her recently. But Vronsky does not seem the marrying sort. At the ball, Kitty hopes to capture and retrain Vronsky’s attention and is visibly unhappy with Anna Karenina when Vronsky pays more attention to her. Levin also has a brother, Nikolay, who is associated with leftist revolutionaries. The relationship is odd, with Nikolay vacillating from ordering Konstantin out of his presence to expecting his brother’s approval and maybe even help.
Kitty Shtcherbatskaya becomes ill after losing the affections of Count Vronsky. The family leaves Moscow for Germany where she befriends a feisty, intelligent girl named Varenka. Kitty recovers from the ill effects of events back in Russia and prepares to return.
Count Vronsky relentlessly pursues Anna Karenina, showing up at whatever engagements she attends. She resists him at first, asking him to stop his attentions. But when he is not present at a social event, she finds herself wondering where he is. She finally gives in to the attraction, and an affair between them begins. (Tolstoy depicts this in a very tame way by today’s standards. We know they have become involved as a result of the end of a scene when they part, with Anna expressing regret and remorse at the relationship, but no indication they will break it off. There is no sex scene at all.) Gossip and rumors swirl around them as their relationship becomes evident. The rumors come to the attention of Anna Karenina’s husband. He speaks to Anna, but in an odd, clinical way, almost as if he is talking about his detached prescription for someone else’s situation. He tells her she risks bringing public disgrace on her, on him, and on her son. He shows little emotion, almost as if anger and jealousy are beneath him.
Anna Karenina and her husband attend a horse race Count Vronsky is riding in. Vronsky rides well up until the end of the race when he makes a mistake and the horse stumbles, collapses, and the horse’s back fractures. Vronsky goes down as well, escaping serious injury. Anna Karenina does not hide her distress at Vronsky’s possible jeopardy. Her behavior is so emotional and unsubtle that her husband feels the need to talk to her. In the carriage ride home, he tells her she has behaved inappropriately, and that it should not happen again. She confesses the affair and tells him she hates him and wants nothing more to do with him. He tells her: “Very well! But I expect a strict observance of the external forms of proprietary till such time… as I may take measures to secure my honor and communicate them to you.”
Konstantin Levin stays at his country estate, busying himself with running the agricultural enterprises there. During a visit from Oblonsky, he finds out Kitty has left Russia to recover from bad health, and has still not married. He remains interested in her, and laments her rejection, but sees little hope for his wish to marry her.
Konstantin Levin absorbs himself in the work at his farm/ranch, including the physical work of cutting tall grass with a scythe. “Dolly”/Darya has a conversation with Konstantin about Kitty, asking him why he is avoiding her, and whether he hates her. He does not hate her, but as a refused suitor, finds being in her presence awkward.
Anna’s husband writes, forgiving her, and telling her to return to Petersburg and to end her relations with Vronsky. “The family cannot be broken up by a whim, a caprice, or even by the sin of one of the partners in the marriage, and our life must go long as it has in the past.” Vronsky’s mother tries to get him to break off the affair which is obvious to everyone. Anna tells her husband she is a “guilty woman… a bad woman” but that she can “change nothing.” Alexey insists she conduct herself so that “neither the world nor the servants can reproach you… In return you’ll enjoy all the privileges of a faithful wife without fulfilling her duties.” He walks away. Anna bows “in silence” as he walks by her.
Levin continues to run his farm. His brother visits—it is evident to Konstantin Levin that his brother Nikolay is dying. Levin considers the ramifications of the recent liberation of the serfs, and the best way for Russian farms to be productive given the new circumstances.
Anna continues to see Count Vronsky. She has Vronsky in their home against Alexey’s expressed wishes. Alexey discovers this breach of his wishes. He tells Anna he is going to Moscow and that his lawyer will contact her. Their son will go to his sister’s.
Oblonsky invites Alexey to dinner while he is in Moscow. Alexey resists, as the pending divorce will change the relationship between the families. But he agrees to go. The dinner includes a number of guests who discuss various issues. Konstantin Levin and Kitty are there. “Dolly”/Darya discusses Anna with Alexey. She wants him not to proceed with the divorce. She at first does not believe Anna has been unfaithful. Alexey says he would like to believe it is not true, but with his wife admitting to it, he has no choice. “Dolly”/Darya implores him to forgive. She cites Christian tenets—“love those who hate you”—to persuade him.
In a magnificently sweet scene, Kitty and Konstantin Levin come together. Kitty is drawing with chalk on a chalkboard. Levin takes the chalk and writes a series of letters, the first letters of words to a sentence. Kitty knows immediately what he’s asking and answers that her refusal of him is not permanent. Kitty also confirms she loves Levin and will agree to a marriage proposal.
Anna Karenina sends word that she is dying. Alexey suspects a trick, but comes to her sickbed. Anna is very ill. Alexey discontinues the divorce action and decides to forgive her (again). But she does not die. She recovers. Vronsky feels humiliated by the circumstances of his affair with Anna and shoots himself in the chest. He also recovers. Anna agrees not to see Vronsky and says good-bye to him. He is to take a post at Tashkent. They get together for what is supposed to be a final meeting. But they decide not to part—they will live together. Count Vronsky declines the Tashkent post and retires from the army.
Konstantin Levin and Kitty marry. They have occasional quarrels, but are both happy and seem well-matched. One of the quarrels comes when Levin gets word his brother is in Moscow dying. Kitty wants to accompany him; Levin wants her to stay away. Kitty wins the argument and not only goes to Moscow but does hands-on nursing of Nikolay. Nikolay dies with Kitty and Konstantin Levin present. Kitty shows symptoms of being ill, but discovers she is pregnant.
Count Vronsky and Anna Karenina travel abroad, living briefly in Italy. Anna has a child, a girl they name “Annie.” Vronsky takes up painting and shows a little amateur talent but does not pursue it. They decide to return to Russia. Countess Lidia Ivanovna has fallen in love with Alexey (he seems unaware of it) and pitches in to help him maintain his household. (Servants actually keep the household running.) She tells Alexey and Anna’s son that Anna is dead. Alexey goes along with this. Anna writes the countess and asks to see her son. Alexey first indicates he sees no choice but to agree. But the countess argues “he looks on her as dead. He… beseeches God to have mercy on her sins… now what will he think?” Alexey now agrees with the refusal, which the countess writes to Anna. Anna resolves to see her son on his birthday. She goes to the home at 8:00 in the morning and gets past a servant who does not know her. The reunion is affectionate. Alexey finds out she is there, walks in, sees her and bows his head silently. Anna runs out of the room, taking the gifts she brought with her, never giving them to her son as intended.
Vronsky is not at their hotel when she returns. She starts to doubt his love, even wondering if he is seeing other women. Because he is accompanied by a friend when he returns, she cannot confront him with her concerns. She decides to go to the theater. Count Vronsky cannot believe she does not understand the awkward position she has put herself in. First deciding not to go, he arrives late at the theater to find Anna has been snubbed. Anna blames Vronsky for the incident, saying somehow if he had loved her more, this wouldn’t have occurred. Vronsky reassures her and they reconcile, then leave for the country. But though “he did not reproach her in words… in his heart he reproached her.”
Darya/“Dolly” spends the summer with Kitty and Konstantin Levin. Konstantin’s older brother Sergei is also there and looks like he’s going to propose to Kitty’s visiting friend Varenka, but doesn’t. Stepan Oblonksky visits and they go shooting with another friend. They visit with peasants and eat with them. The guests cause some stress between Kitty and Konstantin.
Darya/“Dolly” visits Count Vronsky and Anna on Count Vronsky’s property in the country. Darya/“Dolly” accepts Anna’s awkward social position but understands that others don’t. Anna is grateful for the chance to talk to one of her old friends about people and events in the city. Count Vronsky approaches Darya/“Dolly” and asks her to convince Anna to push for a formal divorce, something she has been reluctant to do. He wants legal heirs, legal sons, to carry on his name, and cannot attain this under the current circumstances. Anna seems to cool to the divorce idea and says she does not wish to have any more children. A divorce will mean Anna will have to give up her son, and she clearly prefers her son over the daughter she has had with Vronsky. Anna takes no steps to get a divorce as she and Count Vronsky spend months at Vronsky’s country estate.
In October, Vronsky decides to go to Moscow for provincial elections. Anna says she will pass the time reading (and not go with him), but it is clear she is unhappy he is leaving her alone. Vronsky considers this an issue of masculine independence, and is annoyed with her apparent irritation. Levin and Kitty also come to Moscow. The elections take place, with Konstantin Levin’s brother involved, as well as Vronsky. Konstantin Levin awkwardly interacts with participants much to his brother’s dismay. He has no feel for politics. Levin particularly wants little to do with Vronsky and is inadvertently rude to him. Vronsky seems barely aware of Levin’s discomfort with him. Anna writes a testy letter to Vronsky when he is a day late returning. She fusses over what he might be doing while he is away from her. When Vronsky returns, he again reassures her, but also reproaches her for her clinginess. He reminds her he is ready to move with her to Moscow. Anna realizes she must obtain a divorce to move forward with her life with Count Vronsky, and writes to her husband asking for a divorce.
With encouragement from Oblonsky, Konstantin Levin meets Vronsky in Moscow. He is reticent about the meeting, but the meeting is cordial. Oblonsky takes Levin to meet Anna. Anna is very charming and Levin forms a favorable impression of her. Levin tells Kitty of the meeting, saying Anna is a “very unhappy, good woman.” Kitty replies with an outburst: “You’re in love with that hateful woman; she has bewitched you! I can see it in your eyes.” Levin reassures her, and they quickly reconcile, but Kitty’s reaction betrays a hostility to Anna going back to the time when Kitty had affection for Vronsky. Anna has deliberately “done her utmost to arouse in Levin a feeling of love—as of late she has fallen into doing this with all young men…”
Levin undergoes a tentative embrace of Christianity. After some nervous uncertainty, Kitty successfully gives birth to a baby boy.
Oblonsky asks Alexey for a divorce for Anna. Alexey says the issue has already been addressed; he will not give up his son, and Anna had made that a condition. Oblonsky tells him Anna no longer makes custody of her son a condition of the divorce. Now Alexey says he wants to do everything possible, but as a proper Christian, he is not sure what is possible. He says he will think it over, not committing to a divorce. A strange incident at a dinner involving Alexey, Oblonsky and a French nobleman influences Alexey to decline Anna’s request for a divorce.
Tensions grow between Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky. Anna seems constantly upset, certain Count Vronsky’s love is waning. She loves him intensely and hates him intensely. She constantly challenges him when he is with her, demanding reassurance, never satisfied with the reassurances she gets. When he leaves her for any reason, even logical reasons, she is suspicious and angry he is gone. But when he is with her, she is difficult with him, fluctuating from occasional moments of intense affection to mostly complaints about his behavior and challenges that he does not love her anymore. In the midst of a quarrel, he leaves to go to his mother’s home for business. Anna tells him he will be sorry. She visits “Dolly”/Darya; Kitty is there too. Anna has an awkward meeting with Kitty. Though Kitty is outwardly polite, Anna senses Kitty’s discomfort around her. She goes to the train and rides it, continuing to reflect on her circumstances, finding no escape from continuous suffering and inner turmoil. She exits the train and kills herself by putting herself on the tracks into the path of an oncoming train. “…there, in the very middle… I will punish him and escape from everyone and from myself,” she says to herself as she ends her life. At the last moment, she seems to have second thoughts, but it is too late.
The main characters from the Anna Karenina storyline appear only briefly in this final section. Vronsky speaks to Konstantin Levin’s older brother in passing on a train. He has been deeply hurt by Anna’s death and after an intense grieving period is off to fight alongside Serbians against Turks (in a war not declared by the Russian government). Much of this section pertains to a debate about this war, a debate between Levin and his older brother (and a few others), and Levin’s emerging embrace of Christianity. Levin still reflects on whether other religions of humanity can connect to God. Alexey takes Anna and Count Vronsky’s daughter into his family. The book closes with Levin meditating about spirituality and almost sharing those thoughts with Kitty. But he holds back as Kitty brings some mundane household issue to his attention.
Previous Books-Into-Movies posts (in reverse chronological order):
Books-Into-Movies: “Lincoln” (based on the book TEAM OF RIVALS) January 10, 2013Posted by rwf1954 in book synopsis, books, books compared to movies, books into movies, Daniel Day Lewis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln (the movie), movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Steven Spielberg, Team of Rivals, Tony Kushner.
Tags: book commentary, book synopsis, books compared to movies, books into movies, Daniel Day Lewis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln (the movie), movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Steven Spielberg, Team of Rivals, Tony Kushner
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The credits for the 2012 film “Lincoln,” indicate the movie is “based in part” on the book, Team of Rivals. This Book-Into-Movies post (see below for links to previous Books-Into-Movies posts at this blog) will focus on comparing the “Lincoln” movie to Team of Rivals.
A few comments before I start specific points-of-comparison:
- The book Team of Rivals covers a much wider period of time than the movie, and really does focus on the stories of Lincoln and the “rivals” who become the team. The book runs from the election year of 1860 (moving to background material predating 1860 as the story unfolds) to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in April of 1865. The movie begins in January of 1865, in the middle of Chapter 25 (of 26 total chapters) in Team of Rivals.
- Much more is depicted about the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in the movie than is offered in the book. The filmmakers obviously turned to other source material, though Team of Rivals is the only book credited. I know from discussions of the film in the media that expert consultations were involved in making the film.
- This post concerns specific comparisons between the book and the movie. I am not a Lincoln scholar. I am not attempting to complete a historical fact-check here. I invite experts to add fact-check comments if they wish. My comments will involve only comparisons between the book, Team of Rivals, and the movie, “Lincoln.”
- Team of Rivals is about so much more than the Thirteenth Amendment. As indicated in the title, the book is about the rivals for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination, rivals who compete vigorously against each other, and are then brought together in Lincoln’s cabinet. This also includes Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a Democrat who had snubbed circuit lawyer Abraham Lincoln years before in Ohio. The book details the story of Lincoln’s leadership of these men during arguably the most difficult days in the United States history. Team of Rivals is copiously filled with first-hand accounts that document every aspect of the story. Anyone interested in the accurate history surrounding Abraham Lincoln will enjoy this book, a book that widens the scope of the material offered in the movie by elaborating on the men, the former rivals—now teammates—with President Abraham Lincoln.
Comments comparing the book and the movie, roughly in chronological order from the film:
- The film opens with black soldiers fighting in the Union lines. The issue of how to use blacks—slaves taken by the military, slaves escaping to the north, and freed blacks in the North—is an issue of concern throughout the war. Depiction of blacks fighting at this point in the war, in 1865, is consistent with facts documented in the book.
- The Confederate decision to execute all black soldiers taken on the battlefield did result in Lincoln approving an order that for every black soldier “killed in violation of the laws of war,” a Confederate soldier would be summarily executed. Another part of this order mandated that for every black taken and re-enslaved, a Confederate soldier/prisoner would be “placed at hard labor.”
- The issue of unequal pay is mentioned in Team of Rivals. It comes up when President Lincoln assures the great black abolitionist/orator/leader Frederick Douglass that blacks will “in the end” receive the same pay as whites.
- The carriage accident involving Mary Todd Lincoln is addressed in the book. The accident takes place during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg and blunts Lincoln’s celebration of the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July of 1863. Mary Todd Lincoln is in a carriage following President Lincoln who is riding on horseback. Screws are apparently deliberately removed by an “unknown assailant,” screws “fastening the driver’s seat to the body of the carriage.” Mary Lincoln “landed on her back, hitting her head against a sharp stone.” This results in an exacerbation of the headaches Mary Lincoln suffered throughout much of her life.
- I do not recall Team of Rivals referring to Abraham Lincoln dreaming about a ship. The book does document Lincoln’s comment that the pursuit of the Thirteenth Amendment is like “whalers who have been long on a chase.”
- The push to pass the Thirteenth Amendment during the lame duck Congressional session after the 1864 Presidential (and Congressional) election is from the book.
- Team of Rivals depicts Abraham Lincoln as a steady, even-tempered leader, a teller of stories, sometimes prone to private spells of melancholy/depression, but slow to immerse in passion or emotion. Daniel Day Lewis captures the Lincoln from Team of Rivals flawlessly. His performance has garnered him an Oscar nomination, possibly a statuette, for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln as represented in the book, bringing him alive on the screen.
- Democrats as the party opposing the Thirteenth Amendment is from the book.
- William Seward as Lincoln’s chief adviser and confidante is from the book. The book details the evolution of the relationship—of Seward at first as a rival bitterly disappointed that he does not garner the 1860 Republican nomination for president to becoming a key adviser and admirer of President Lincoln. Seward moderates his views on ending slavery to join Lincoln’s understanding that to move too fast could be to lose the entire struggle to keep the Union together. Slavery would then continue to exist in a separate southern “United” States.
- The movie accurately outlines the process for the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (for the ratification of any constitutional amendment); two-thirds of both houses of Congress, then three fourths of the states.
- The fall of Fort Fisher, guarding the North Carolina port city of Wilmington at about the same time the Thirteenth Amendment passes Congress, is from the book.
- The episode with Francis Preston Blair, a rich conservative supporter and adviser to Abraham Lincoln, is depicted in the book. Yes, he is adamant that with Lincoln’s reelection, another peace attempt should occur. Lincoln seems doubtful, but gives Blair a “pass for Richmond” with the understanding that “he was proceeding on his own, without authority to speak for the president.” Ulysses Grant does meet with the “peace commissioners” on their way north and recommends President Lincoln should meet with them. President Lincoln meets with them at Hampton Roads in a saloon on a ship called the River Queen. There is a weird proposal that the Union and Confederacy should join to fight the French dictatorship then installed in Mexico. The conference breaks up without any agreement, and seems doomed from the start when the Confederate envoys try to refer to two countries, and President Lincoln insists they must acknowledge one country only. Republican radicals are incensed when they hear of the conference, afraid Lincoln will be too generous in negotiations. But their distress turns to praise when reports of the details of the conference are communicated.
- Team of Rivals does refer to “the story of the peace commissioners, whose presence almost derailed the vote on the new amendment.” But President Lincoln assures James M. Ashley of Ohio, the Congressman introducing the amendment, that “no peace commissioners are in the City, or likely to be in it.” On its face this is true—the “peace commissioners” are not in the capital city. The movie correctly describes the problem—Democrats needed to defect to get the two thirds vote for the amendment, and even some conservative Republicans, would probably have not voted for passage of the abolition amendment because it would be sure to end any prospects for peace. Lincoln cleverly satisfied his friend and supporter Francis Preston Blair while getting the Thirteenth Amendment passed.
- Other notes about Lincoln’s meeting with the peace commissioners: He is previously acquainted with Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, one of the “peace commissioners.” They share discussion of mutual acquaintances before getting directly to the business at hand. Team of Rivals does not document any proposal that Lincoln allow Southern states back into the union so they can vote down the Thirteenth Amendment. There is some discussion of possible reimbursement to slaveowners from the Federal government, but nothing comes of this idea, an idea sure to be unpopular with most of Lincoln’s base.
- A word about political terms that have a different meaning now than they did then: “Radicals” were mainly Republicans who wanted abolition of slavery as quickly as possible and the toughest possible approach to the southern Rebel states. “Conservative” Republicans favored a slower, less definitive approach to slavery, and would consider maintaining slavery in exchange for peace. Democrats were primarily in favor of the “conservative” approach, with pro-war Democrats favoring the fight to maintain the Union, and anti-war Democrats favoring peace at nearly any price, including agreeing to two countries.
- Lincoln’s legal assessment of the Emancipation Proclamation and how the Thirteenth Amendment was needed to end slavery legally is from the book. The Emancipation Proclamation was intended as an executive order at time of war, and might not have been legally binding once the war had ended.
- Thaddeus Stevens (the Tommy Lee Jones character) is not mentioned extensively in Team of Rivals. The character in the movie is consistent with the few references to him in the book. Whether Thaddeus Stevens in truth had an intimate relationship with his black housekeeper is not addressed in the book.
- Team of Rivals does mention patronage jobs given in exchange for votes in favor of the Thirteenth Amendment. The movie expands this part of the passage story beyond information provided in Team of Rivals. The book does documents that President Lincoln insists to his House allies that he is President of United States “clothed with great power,” and that the votes of two wavering members were of “such importance that those two votes must be procured.”
- Many Lincoln supporters crowd the gallery for the House debate the day the Thirteenth Amendment passes. It is hard to get a seat. This includes much of his cabinet. I saw no mention that Mary Lincoln was in the gallery. Mary Lincoln was from a slave border state and had three brothers-in-law who fought for the Confederacy. Her presence for this debate seems unlikely.
- Mary Lincoln’s devastation over her son Willie’s death during Lincoln’s presidency is documented in the book.
- Robert Lincoln’s desire to serve in the army is also from the book. The book does not detail any of the emotional rancor depicted in the movie. There is no face-slap. President Lincoln writes General Grant and asks him to place his son in a position on his staff. Team of Rivals does tell us that Abraham Lincoln was not as close to his older son as to his two younger sons, Willie and Tad. When Robert was growing up, circuit lawyer Abraham Lincoln was spending long periods of time away from home.
- Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s depiction as a serious man, demanding of everyone around him, including himself, is consistent with Stanton as depicted in the book.
- Lincoln’s leniency with death penalties for Union deserters, issuing pardons for many, and Stanton’s belief he was too lenient, is also from the book.
- Lincoln’s visits with wounded soldiers are also depicted in the book.
- I do not recall any part of Team of Rivals hinting at the scene in the movie where Lincoln loudly exclaims to Mary Lincoln: “I should have clapped you in the madhouse.”
- Lincoln communicating to Grant that he would not mind if Jefferson Davis slipped out of the country without his knowledge is from the book.
- Stanton’s statement, after Lincoln’s death, that “now he belongs to the ages” is from the book (and is a well-known famous quote from Stanton).
- Secretary of State Seward is not at Lincoln’s bedside at his death in the movie. This is accurate. The filmmakers did not have time to explain why. Seward had been in a carriage accident that left him bedridden at the time of the assassination. And on the same night, another assassin tried to kill Seward (this was a plot to kill a number of high-ranking Union leaders), and Seward’s life also hung in the balance as he recuperated from his carriage injuries and wounds inflicted by his would-be killer. Seward did recover. But he was not available to be at Lincoln’s death.
- The movie ends with a flashback to Lincoln’s 1865 Inaugural Address and his famous quote: “With malice toward none; with charity for all.” Back then, Presidential inaugurations took place in early March. So this took place over a month after the Thirteenth Amendment passed Congress, but before the Confederate surrender.
The “with malice toward none: with charity for all” quote, for me, captures Lincoln’s greatness. Team of Rivals, with its detailed account of how Lincoln brought sometimes hostile opponents into his inner circle for the greater good, and with its documentation of Lincoln’s political astuteness, knowing exactly what pace and what sequence of events to take to keep the fledgling United States together while extinguishing the new nation’s greatest evil, adds to the Lincoln legend. Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” captures a piece of this chronicle and puts it in front of the public in dramatic form, largely true to the tone and theme of the book. It reminded me that Lincoln’s accomplishments were not a given. If he had pushed for ending slavery too quickly, he would have lost slave border states to the Confederacy, including Maryland, and likely the Union would have lost the Civil War. If he had waited too long, the moral imperatives of the war would have been blunted. He made the right moves at the right times, and amidst terrible bloodshed and withering hatreds, held the United States together—the world would be a lesser place without the United States as the world power it is today. The reach of Lincoln is mentioned toward the end of Team of Rivals. Siberian tribesmen from the early Twentieth Century ask Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy to tell stories about Abraham Lincoln. His greatness had somehow reached remote corners of the planet. Doris Kearns Goodwin and Steven Spielberg have added to the long list of wonderful stories about America’s great treasure, our Sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln.
Previous Books-Into-Movies posts (in reverse chronological order):
Tags: book commentary, book synopsis, books compared to movies, books into movies, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants
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Water for Elephants is what I would call a small story, a slice-of-life of an elderly man, without huge historical ramifications. But the novel is well-crafted with a story that draws readers in, then moves briskly ahead, with characters and conflicts making readers anxious to know how each dramatic question will be answered. The novel became popular with readers, making it a logical choice for movie adaptation to tap that ready-made audience. But the filmmakers made a number of changes, dictated by the differences between the story-telling mediums. I will point out three big differences first, changes that created the need for other changes. I will then comment on other notes of comparison as I found them to be of interest:
First, the story-within-the-story nature of the book is set up completely differently in the movie. In the book, Jacob is in the rest home when the residents hear about the circus coming to town. Jacob, 90 or 93 by his aging recollection, hears a resident say he carried “water for elephants.” Jacob becomes agitated and belligerent—the man could not have carried “water for elephants” because elephants drink so much water. Jacob then reflects on his life with the circus, flashing back to the story-within-the-story. The “water for elephants” phrase in the movie is mentioned in passing by the August character, before the elephant arrives. The title of the book makes sense as the phrase that triggers Jacob’s reflection back. The title of the movie seems barely connected at all to the story as adapted. And, the story-within-the-story in the movie comes with elderly Jacob telling his story to the leader of the modern circus. This scene that begins the movie, comes at the end of the book.
Second, Jacob and Marlena begin a dangerous flirtation much earlier in the movie. In the book, Marlena stays distant from Jacob for much of the early part of the story, to the extent that Jacob does not know if she returns his feelings for much further along in the story. This appears to be a necessary shift because of the nature of the story-telling mediums. Novels allow character interiors to be displayed easily, so subtlety of emotion and mood can be offered to the readers/audience with the story still moving ahead. In Water for Elephants, we have Jacob’s first person interior to drive events. In movies, the audience is limited to viewing the story through a third-person omniscient view. Voice-over monologues can address this issue, but too much of it in a film becomes irksome. So to drive the story, and bring the film’s two main stars together, sparks fly between them earlier.
Third, the character of “Uncle Al,” the unscrupulous, evil circus owner is rolled into August in the movie. This was clearly done to streamline the plot. Movies are shorter story-telling forms than novels, and filmmakers are often faced with this issue of what to cut to streamline a story. The choice does make the story more efficient, but removes a rich nuance from the story. In the novel, the troubled August, a charming man prone to paranoid rages, also has to deal with a superior who is easily even more unprincipled and brutal than he is.
Chronologically, here are some other observations of comparison:
- The Prologue in the book is the depiction of Jacob becoming aware of the developing stampede. In the movie, this scene is saved for its actual chronological positioning in the story-within-the-story.
- Elderly Jacob’s complaints about the rest home (what I think we now call an assisted living facility) are from the book, as is his 71-year-old son’s forgetting their planned outing to the local circus.
- The set-up that brings Jacob to the circus, including his veterinary training at Cornell, and his parents’ tragic double-fatal accident, and the bankruptcy of his parents’ estate, is straight from the book.
- Camel, the old man who ends up paralyzed from drinking poisonous liquor, takes on a bigger role in the movie. Camel does initially greet Jacob when he jumps the train in the book, but then brings him to August. In the book, it is August who befriends Jacob and orients him to his new life, acting as a buffer between Jacob and the malevolent circus owner “Uncle Al.” Because “Uncle Al” and August are rolled into one character in the movie, Camel’s character steps up to serve that role. In the book, this allows us to see a softer, more charming side to August, making his eruptions into brutality even more troubling, for Jacob, and for readers. Camel does become afflicted with the creeping paralysis in the book, a tragedy the author tells us in her “Author’s Note” that struck “approximately one hundred thousand Americans” during that time period.
- Jacob’s handling of the injured leg of the star horse is basically from the book, including August feeding the euthanized horse to “the cats.” (So is August’s statement, when they are feeding spoiled meat to “the cats,” that they are out of goats.) In the book, we have the added layer of “Uncle Al.” Jacob’s job is in jeopardy after the action, but August is not the one who will be responsible for ending Jacobs services. “Uncle Al” is convinced to keep Jacob on. After all, he has veterinary skills, demonstrated ably with his initial diagnosis of the horse’s ailment.
- In the book, August also gets Jacob to put his arm into the cage of the toothless lion, and laughs when Jacob pulls his arm back, angry, thinking he could have lost his arm.
- Rosie the Elephant comes to the Benzini Brothers Circus from a failed circus, just as in the book. She also loves liquor, and steals lemonade. But in the book, she steals lemonade for two days with no one looking (not even Jacob). Circus workers are blamed. It is not until observers are posted to watch the lemonade that the truth is discovered. The author indicates in her “Author’s Note” that this is also based on a true story. This is more fun—the elephant picks up the stake that is supposed to hold her in place, migrates to steal the lemonade, then goes back to her spot and puts the stake back in, before anyone suspects she has the ability to change her position. But this would have been harder to depict in the movie, and might have distracted from the main story if fully depicted.
- August does marry seventeen-year-old Marlena in the book. But he takes her away from her parents, who disown her when they elope. In the movie, we have her in foster homes, with no real parental relationships.
- The “I’m not a real vet” scene, followed by “do you think Lucinda is really eight hundred pounds” is straight from the book.
- August’s vicious treatment of Rosie with the “bull hook” is straight from the book. Jacob does not try to intervene during the beatings in the book. (Neither does Marlena.) This is a source of some interior shame for Jacob. This also starts a brewing hatred for the often cruel August, a hatred that grows as the story continues. I also do not recall any expressed remorse from August after he beats Rosie in the book.
- Rosie’s understanding of commands in Polish, and Jacob’s discovery of this leading to a crowd-pleasing act, and the resuscitation of the circus’s fortunes—straight from the book.
- The police raid in the movie, with Marlena and Jacob becoming separated from August, occurs earlier in the book with different ramifications. Jacob does make a pass at Marlena, but she does not offer any encouragement at that time, and Jacob is left to believe he has made an awkward mistake.
- The destination for Camel in the book is Providence, where he will reunite with his estranged family. In the movie, Camel is to be dropped off in Reading. No reference is made to his family in the movie.
- The “surprise” for August is in the book, but without the psychological buildup to the fight between the two men—no awkward choreographing with August ordering Marlena and Jacob into a forced, awkward embrace.
- The consequences of the big fight between Jacob and August are completely different in the book because everyone answers to “Uncle Al.” There is a period of days with Jacob promising to help reconcile Marlena and August while buying time for Marlena and him to leave the circus. August wants that reconciliation to come much quicker, and “Uncle Al” decides he will handle matters his way. “Uncle Al” issues the order to “redlight” Jacob (throw him off the moving train), along with a number of other circus workers, to save money for this still financially-struggling circus. In the movie, with August directly in charge of the circus, the order is issued immediately.
- The “redlighting” murders of Camel and Jacob’s friend, the midget Walter, are straight from the book.
- The incident of Jacob sneaking up on August in the middle of the night and placing a knife next to him is in the book, though the circumstances are different because of August’s changed role to head of the circus.
- The other “redlighted” men who survive being tossed from the train, as in the book, return and release the animals, causing a stampede that destroys the Benzini Brothers circus. In the book, Rosie, after meeting eyes with Jacob, pulls out her stake and uses it to crack open August’s head. There is no fight between August and Jacob during the stampede, no scene with Marlena hitting August with the “bull hook.” August is trampled into pulp by the stampeding animals after Rosie’s assault.
- Jacob and Marlena take possession of Rosie and join Ringling Brothers, as in the book.
- The present-day circus owner hires elderly Jacob, as in the book.
Water for Elephants the book offers a diversion into the world of a depression-era circus, with characters to root for and against, and exotic circumstances including involvement with perhaps the most likable character of the book, Rosie the Elephant. The film stays true to this story concept, with many changes. It is a matter of taste as to whether these changes helped or hindered the story. If you liked the movie, you will also enjoy the book, and the slightly different take on this story you will find there. The book moves quickly—you will be through it before you know, driven ahead by well-crafted modern-day novel-writing.
Water for Elephants/Brief Synopsis
(prepared before viewing the movie)
Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob Jankowski’s days with the circus, focused mainly on his time with a third-rate, financially iffy group—struggling during the Depression—run by morally challenged leaders. This story is offered to us as a story-within-a-story, narrated effectively in the first person present tense by the Jankowski character, now 90 (or is at 93—he’s not sure) as he languishes in an assisted care facility. The circus is coming to town. The residents look forward to attending; Jankowski is to be taken by his son and his son’s family. Jankowski becomes agitated when one of the residents says he once carried “water for elephants.” Jankowski knows the man is not being accurate—elephants drink way more water than can be carried to them. This starts Jankowski into the main story.
Jankowski is a veterinary student at Cornell. He is on the verge of final exams. After completing these exams, he expects to join his father’s veterinary practice. But both his parents are killed in an auto accident. A lawyer tells him there is no money, only debt. All his family’s possessions need to be sold to pay that debt. Jankowski’s father often treated animals of the indigent for little in return.
Jacob leaves the town and hops on a train. It turns out to be a circus train for the Benzini Brothers’ Greatest Show on Earth. It looks like Jacob will have a hard time catching on with the circus until they find out he is a veterinarian, or near veterinarian, with a Cornell education. He becomes the vet for the show.
Jacob Jankowski bunks with a midget called Kinko, actually named Walter. Walter resents Jacob until Jacob helps Walter’s ailing dog Queenie. A friendship then develops.
The head of the equestrian show is a charming but erratic man named August. His beautiful wife Marlena is the star of the equestrian show. “Uncle Al” is the head of the circus, a tough character who has few scruples about anything. He seems willing to do anything to keep his circus troupe financially sound, including throwing excess workers no longer needed off the train while it’s moving in a practice called “redlighting.”
Jacob finds he has feelings for Marlena, and develops a stronger and stronger dislike for August, who takes some truly horrible actions himself in pursuit of solvency and serving the wishes of “Uncle Al.”
The Benzini Brothers Circus acquires Rosie the Elephant from a circus. At first she is an eating machine who seems untrainable. August flies into rages against the elephant and treats her with vicious cruelty, beating her with a hook. But the situation changes when Jacob discovers Rosie understands commands in Polish. Now August and Marlena are able to put together an act with an elephant in it, and the circus begins to prosper.
Jacob has feelings for Marlena, and makes a pass at Marlena when they become isolated during a night on the town. Marlena does not seem to reciprocate, and seems to avoid Jacob after the incident. August seems suspicious, but it is not clear to Jacob if he knows about his move on Marlena, or if his suspicions are for other reasons. As the circus prospers, Marlena wants to celebrate, and shares some champagne with Jacob in the menagerie, expecting August to join them. August enters and flies into a rage, hitting Marlena and getting into a terrible fight with Jacob.
Marlena declares she is leaving August. This puts August in a terrible mental state, bad enough to jeopardize circus operations. “Uncle Al” asks Jacob to get Marlena to go back with August. Jacob agrees he will try to get them back together, but has no intention of keeping this promise. Jacob and Marlena agree they will leave the circus together. But “Uncle Al” has threatened to “redlight” Walter and another man with Walter and Jacob, Camel, who is paralyzed from some poisonous homemade liquor. Walter and Jacob have been taking care of Camel, trying to keep him with the circus long enough for his family to take him in when the circus gets to Providence.
But August loses patience. Marlena stays in a hotel to avoid August. But August checks local hotels trying to track her down. Marlena and Jacob consummate their affection, essentially completing the suspicious August’s self-fulfilling prophecy. The tension at the circus is causing financial problems. “Uncle Al” now also loses patience. He decides to handle matters his way. He orders Jacob, Walter and Camel to be redlighted—at a trestle. Jacob sneaks into August’s quarters in the circus train and lays a knife near him, making it clear he could have slashed his throat. When he returns to his railroad car, Walter and Camel are gone. Jacob fears what has happened.
August and “Uncle Al” are surprised to see Jacob the next morning, but he is safe during daylight in public. Jacob finds out others were also redlighted—not at a trestle. They have returned surreptitiously, prepared to sabotage the circus. They confirm for Jacob that Walter and Camel have been killed.
The “redlighted” survivors release all the animals of the circus menagerie from their cages in the middle of the performance that day. Panicked circus-goers flee the fracas, causing injury and death. August is trampled after a Rosie the Elephant strikes him with a stake that she pulls from the ground. “Uncle Al” disappears—his body is found days later with indications he has been strangled. The Benzini Brothers’ Greatest Show on Earth is finished.
Law enforcement comes in to supervise the sale of what is left of the circus. Jacob convinces them he owns Rosie. Marlena also keeps the horses. They marry and join Ringling Brothers where they work for seven years, with their first child spending his early childhood growing up with the circus. They end up at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. Jacob becomes the zoo’s veterinarian. Rosie is kept at the zoo. They buy a home nearby with room for Marlena’s horses as well.
Old Jacob Jankowski waits expectantly to go to the circus with his family. But his son has forgotten, and there is no one to take him. So he takes his walker and goes to the circus himself. The circus operator sees him at the entrance and invites him in. When the circus operator finds out Jacob was an eyewitness to the famous Benzini Brothers stampede, he is impressed with Jacob and agrees to allow Jacob to travel with them.
Books-Into-Movies: “the five people you meet in heaven” (based on the book THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN) July 13, 2012Posted by rwf1954 in book synopsis, books, books compared to movies, books into movies, Mitch Albom, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, the five people you meet in heaven.
Tags: book commentary, book synopsis, books compared to movies, books into movies, Mitch Albom, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, the five people you meet in heaven
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I stumbled over this sweet movie as an afternoon rerun on the Hallmark Channel, this sweet movie of spiritual speculation. When I saw that the author wrote the screenplay, I decided this would make an interesting Books-Into-Movies post. My wife picked up the DVD (so I was able to watch the movie again uninterrupted and/or unedited to accommodate commercials).
No surprise—the movie stays very close to the book. Most of the time, books are simply too long to adapt into movies without revisions. But Mitch Albom’s novel is short, no more than 50,000 words, so accommodates a movie adaptation more easily than longer novels.
I will focus on changes, but will also comment when I feel a choice to stay with the book is of interest:
- The book starts with the words “The End.” The movie preserves this idea. In the book we have a specific countdown to “The End”—“50 minutes left on earth,” “Forty minutes until his death,” “Thirty-four minutes to live,” “Thirty minutes left”…
- “Eddie Maintenance” is directly from the book.
- The movie does not include the event years before when a car key is dropped and lost in the amusement park ride that ends up killing Eddie. The key lodges in the machinery and causes the mechanics of the machinery to wear down gradually until the afternoon when the ride fails completely.
- The book recounts some of Eddie’s birthdays, providing basic elements of his life story through stories of events on these selected birthdays.
- “I’ve never been anywhere I wasn’t shipped to with a rifle” is a direct quote from the book.
- Eddie kills the “Blue Man” (accidentally)—straight from the book. Albom tells the story from two perspectives.
- Juggling rocks leading to Eddie’s escape from the Japanese is also directly from the book. This leads to the burning of the facility, and Eddie’s suspicion that someone was in one of the buildings. This also includes the captain shooting Eddie to pull him away from the camp.
- There is more back-story on Eddie’s father’s friend, Mickey Shea, the man who tries to force himself on Eddie’s mother, the man who Eddie’s father saves, then catches pneumonia as a result of diving into freezing water. We get a quick glimpse of this back-story in the movie. There is more about him in the book, making Eddie’s father’s actions in the story all the more understandable.
- As in the movie, there is no big emotional exchange when Eddie forgives his father. In both the book and the movie, Eddie’s forgiveness of his father purges his own hate and bitterness, and is clearly for Eddie’s benefit, not his father’s—obviously the specific point Albom makes with this aspect of the story.
- In the book, Eddie gambles on the horses. This is not part of the movie.
- The powerful ending of the five people you meet in heaven is very much like the book, with almost perfect casting for the little girl, Tala.
This movie, adapted very closely from the book by the author, demonstrates the differences between these two story-telling mediums—their strengths and weaknesses. Books do have advantages over movies when elaborating “lessons.” The lesson from each person Eddie meets can be spelled out more clearly in the book. Movies allow more focus on imagery to tell the story. In an instant we can see what a paragraph or two of narrative conveys in a book.
Tags: baseball, Billy Beane, book commentary, book synopsis, books compared to movies, books into movies, Brad Pitt, Michael Lewis, Moneyball, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Oakland A's
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This Books-Into-Movies post admittedly departs from my previous posts, which usually pertain to historically-based movies. But, as I’ve written in the past, on my blog, I get to write about what interests me. Not evident in my prior posts is that I am a sports fan. And as someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, I have been rooting for the Oakland A’s (and the San Francisco Giants—I grew up equally distant from both) since they got to Oakland. I read Moneyball by Michael Lewis (also the author of Blind Side) when it first came out and loved it. So naturally, I caught the movie.
Brad Pitt as Billy Beane? I had my doubts. But I absolutely loved the movie. And Brad Pitt was great. My recollection of the book, from reading it nearly a decade ago, was that it would be tough to turn into a story—I did not recall the book as a linear story with the requisite conflicts, protagonist, antagonists; the kinds of things that go into a successful commercial movie. The filmmakers did a fine job of pulling a compelling, fun, David-and-Goliath story out of Moneyball. The antagonists are crystallized as old baseball attitudes in the persons of established baseball people fighting to keep the new ideas from being implemented. The antagonists are also the rich teams, but not really directly. But how much of the film is true to the facts elaborated in the book? I reread Moneyball to find out.
The basic spirit of the book is there, and some wonderful phrases and events appear directly from the book. But there are many departures from the book to build this fun story. I’ll offer a detailed comparison. Please keep in mind, as with all my Books-Into-Movies posts, that I’m comparing the book and the movie. If the filmmakers acquired information not in the book for the movie, it is not part of my discussion here.
So, here is a chapter-by-chapter discussion:
Chapter One – The Curse of Talent
- If anything, the movie actually understates how impressive Billy Beane was as a raw talent. In workouts for scouts, he twice outraces another prospect who has a track scholarship as a sprinter. Billy Beane is 6-4 with freakish abilities. (Much bigger and more imposing than Brad Pitt, but Brad Pitt does such a great job in this movie that we can let his lack of Beane’s size go!)
- There are hints of Billy Beane’s inability to cope with a hint of failure, his inability to accept anything but total success. There is a drop-off in his stats in his senior year in high school, and volcanic tantrums his coach has trouble knowing what to do with.
- The Mets top scout wants to choose Billy Beane with their first pick, but because Beane has indicated he will go to Stanford to play baseball (and football, to succeed John Elway as a quarterback even though he has not played quarterback in high school since his sophomore year), he is passed up by other teams, and the Mets get him with one of their three first-round picks, 23rd overall.
- Billy Beane looks like he will not sign until the Mets bring him to the Mets visitor’s clubhouse in his hometown of San Diego and introduce him to three players. He commits to signing, but before actually completing his signature, changes his mind again. His father tells him how he has already committed, and Beane signs for $125,000.
Chapter 2 – How to Find a Ballplayer
- Billy Beane’s interaction with his scouting department is more nuanced and complex than is depicted in the movie. (There isn’t time in the film to go into this in the depth covered by the book.) This chapter deals with the upcoming amateur draft of unsigned high school and college players, not an evaluation of available major leaguers. The movie captures the new concepts Billy Beane brings to the scouts, but simplifies the scouts’ reactions and implies a unity among scouts in opposition to his ideas. The book lets us know this was not such a simple division.
- The guy with the laptop, Peter Brand in the movie, is Paul DePodesta, a graduate from Harvard (not Yale) in economics, but interested in “the uneasy border between psychology and economics.” There is no scene in the book with Beane stumbling onto him as an employee of the Cleveland Indians in this chapter. Billy Beane is committed to “moneyball.” He brings in DePodesta in the late 90s to help him carry it out.
- In the book, we have a scene with Beane throwing a chair into a wall when his head scout, Grady Fuson, picks a raw pitcher who throws 94 mile per hour fastballs, straight out of high school. This is not the way Billy Beane wants to build talent for the A’s.
- KevinYoukilis, and his description as “the Greek god of walks” is straight from the book, but refers to his stats as a college player and potential as a draft choice.
- On base percentage and the ability to get walks are heavily prized by Beane and DePodesta, as in the book. But a further reason is that though the ability to draw walks and get on base are prized, this ability is also a measure of a hitter’s ability to control the strike zone. This factor helps talent evaluators determine hitting success in the major leagues. Power hitting, they know from analysis, can be learned. Controlling the strike zone may be a talent more difficult to develop; it may be an inherent talent such as throwing ability and speed. And this inherent talent can lead to hitting prowess, not just a higher on base percentage and more walks.
Chapter 3 – The Enlightenment
- The book has time to chronicle Billy Beane’s failed Major League baseball career as a player, captured accurately in the movie, but due to the time constraints, offered with much less detail. Lewis offers great stories in the book about the success of Billy Beane’s roomate Lenny Dykstra, a 13th round pick in the draft, contrasted with Billy Beane’s lack of success. As in the movie, the failure appears to be mental, a lack of the mindset needed to be a successful player despite prodigious talent.
- Completely missing from the movie is any reference to 1990’s Oakland A’s general manager Sandy Alderson. He starts Beane on the concept that would become “moneyball,” giving him a Bill James influenced pamphlet. Alderson also starts the A’s, in the minor leagues at least, toward valuing walks and on base percentage. It is Alderson who first embraces the concept that on base percentage—and slugging percentage—correlate more with runs scored than batting average, and that fielding is “5 percent of the game.” The movie implies these ideas started after the A’s lost Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen. The book informs us Beane’s “moneyball” ideas were in place before Billy Beane became a general manager.
- There is a brief mention of Beane’s divorce, and his commuting from Oakland to San Diego on his minimal scout’s pay to stay in his daughter’s life. (For me, the stuff about Billy Beane’s daughter is the weakest part of the movie, and could have been left out. I have speed-searched through these sections during my rewatches, though the young actress was charming, and would be fun to watch in something else.)
Chapter 4 – Field of Ignorance
- In the movie, Bill James, the maverick writer about baseball, baseball statistics, and new perspectives on their analysis and what he perceived as wrong emphases in conventional baseball thought, is mentioned briefly (and glowingly). This chapter explains in detail what Bill James brought to this story.
- In the course of the discussion on Bill James, Lewis mentions two early baseball proponents of “moneyball” type ideas: 1) Branch Rickey (with the help of baseball statistician Alan Roth), who in 1954 expressed the idea that on base and slugging percentages were more important than other statistics, and 2) Earl Weaver, Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles manager who made a career of playing for the three-run homer, disdaining sacrifices.
Chapter 5 – Jeremy Brown Blue Plate Special
- Dramatized in the book, not addressed directly in the movie, is the roller coaster ride (for Billy Beane) of the June 2002 amateur baseball draft. Lewis shows us how the “moneyball” principles are utilized as the A’s draft their players. We again see Billy Beane is clearly totally invested in these principles, and we also see his intensity as it looks like he will lose his choices, with fortunes twisting and turning as the draft takes place.
Chapter 6 – The Science of Winning an Unfair Game
- This chapter details the inequities in baseball between the rich and poor teams. Again we learned that the A’s already seemed to be exceeding the expectations of a poor team with “moneyball” ideas before 2002. The filmmakers telescope events to build more drama into the story and sharpen the issues for clarity and effect.
- But the movie is correct to emphasize 2002 season, with the A’s losing Giambi, Damon and Isringhausen, as the nightmare scenario for poor teams, the extreme of extremes in inequity, as the book points out.
- This chapter also fills in more details about the three players the A’s were losing. We discover losing Isringhausen was not even surprising or unwelcome, as “closers” can be created then overvalued because of a silly measure of performance called a “save.” Closers can be cut loose and re-created. Damon is also seen as overvalued, as discussed by the Peter Brand character in the book. But Giambi, because of his incredible run-creation abilities, is the real loss for the A’s.
Chapter 7 – Giambi’s Hole
- Lewis quotes Billy Beane: “The important thing is not to re-create the individual. The important thing is to re-create the aggregate.” That is taken straight into the movie, right along with the attempts to do this by replacing Giambi’s on base percentage.
- Lewis states that while players were encouraged to take more pitches, swing at better pitches, and work for more walks, they were not told specifically they had been acquired for their on base percentages. Jeremy Giambi, David Justice and Scott Hatteberg are signed and put out on the field without knowing they are “lab rats” in an “experiment,” as Lewis calls them.
- Billy Beane not watching games, in the weight room—straight from the book. It seems he becomes too worked up if things don’t go well, and is not pleasant to be with. He “breaks things.”
- But, not in the book is this idea of Art Howe defying Billy Beane. Lewis explains in the book that it is common knowledge Beane “ran the team from the weight room.” The idea that Art Howe kept playing Carlos Pena instead of Scott Hatteberg in defiance of Billy Beane’s wishes is not consistent with the book. The only hints of this is that apparently Howe did like to platoon Hatteberg and Pena depending upon whether they were facing a left-handed or right-handed pitcher. This approach was not preferred by Billy Beane. But Beane appears to have been in control. There is a story of a player who executed a sacrifice bunt, a no-no on a “moneyball”/Billy Beane team. Art Howe makes sure the player is clear he did this on his own, not on a signal from his manager—so Billy Beane’s wrath could be directed appropriately.
Chapter 8 – Scott Hatteberg, Picking Machine
- Moving a catcher who can’t throw over to first base to get his on base abilities into the lineup is straight from the book. Hatteberg’s initial awkwardness at the position is also straight from the book. But we learn from Lewis that Hatteberg improves to become a decent, “above-average” first baseman as the season progresses. He works hard to pick up the position—he has his wife hitting grounders to him off a batting tee before he comes to camp.
- The wholesale midseason purge of players, including Jeremy Giambi’s trade to the Philadelphia Phillies, is in the book, though some of the details are different. The motivation in the book seems to be that the A’s are losing and Beane is upset. There is nothing even implied about forcing Art Howe to set the lineup the way Billy Beane wants. As discussed earlier, Billy Beane already controlled the team more than “Moneyball” the movie implies.
Chapter 9 – The Trading Desk
- The movie captures the frenzied tone of Billy Beane’s dealings, though the exact details are different in the book, including the maneuvers to trade with the Indians for reliever Ricardo Rincon. Rincon does indeed change uniforms the day of the trade as depicted in the movie.
- We do learn Jeremy Giambi was traded because Billy Beane suspected him of “having too much fun on a losing team.”
- Not in the movie, we get the story of how A’s general manager Billy Beane tries to put himself in a deal between the Montreal Expos and the Boston Red Sox so the A’s can acquire Kevin Youkilis, the “Greek god of walks,” a player he has wanted for the A’s for a long time. He is not successful.
Chapter 10 – Anatomy of an Undervalued Pitcher
- In this chapter, we learn the Chad Bradford biography. The movie cannot give us all of this quirky story because of time constraints. (The story could almost be a movie of its own.) But the movie captures the essence of the Chad Bradford situation—a pitcher completely unrespected by Major League baseball because he looks so strange delivering the ball. He keeps getting batters out, particularly at a AAA location known for being hard on pitchers, so continues to rise through the ranks of the minor leagues toward the major leagues despite the weirdness of his pitching form.
- In the book, we get details on the “moneyball” analysis that brings Bradford to the attention of Paul DePodesta and the A’s, a stat pioneered by an obscure paralegal who astounds even an initially skeptical Bill James by combining strikeouts, walks allowed, and home runs allowed to develop a stat that only the pitcher controls. Bradford’s stats bring to the A’s attention; Bradford’s delivery drops down more and more as his career develops, and as he pushes himself harder to get hitters out with limited physical talent.
- We also learn that Chad Bradford has been on the Oakland A’s before the start of the 2002 season. The movie implies that his acquisition takes place after the A’s have lost Giambi, Damon, and Isringhausen.
Chapter 11 – The Human Element
- This chapter focuses on the game the A’s win to set the record for consecutive wins in the American League. From the book—yes, the A’s blow a twelve run lead (with Chad Bradford giving up a significant number of runs as he loses confidence at the same time the rest of baseball seems to be finding confidence in him). Yes, Scott Hatteberg pinch- hits the game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth, with some charming details of just how unprepared he was for the moment.
- Billy Beane does plan to go toVisalia that day to look in on the A’s minor league team, to check on some of his recent draft picks. But it is not his daughter who calls him and asks him to turn around early in the game. The A’s front office convinces him he needs to stay. In fact, Billy Beane becomes trapped in Art Howe’s office with the author, Michael Lewis. Lewis gets the opportunity to watch firsthand how Beane starts to do descend into rage as the A’s lead diminishes further and further. Billy Beane’s daughter? It is Billy Beane who calls her early in the game—and finds out she is watching American idol.
Chapter 12 – The Speed of an Idea
- As in the movie, the book goes into Billy Beane’s hostility toward sacrifices and stealing bases as a waste of outs. In the movie, there’s a brief scene where a player says to Billy Beane that he’s been hired to steal bases, and Billy Beane says no, he had hired that player to get to first, not get thrown out at second. That appears to refer to Ray Durham, whose story is expanded in the book.
- The A’s do lose to the Twins in the playoffs. But as in the movie, Billy Beane seems less distressed about losing because the playoffs involve luck—the small number of games is too small a “sample size.” The “moneyball” system Billy Beane has adopted is designed to work for a large number of games, a 162 game season. In a short series, five games or seven games, luck plays a great deal more of a role.
- Billy Beane “trades” Art Howe to the New York Mets where Howe gets the generous long-term contract he believes he deserves. In the movie there is a direct confrontation between Beane and Howe before the 2002 season. In the book, this unhappiness manifests only as late-season grousing in the media.
- Billy Beane actually commits to signing with the Red Sox as general manager, and his mind is already there, contemplating the moves he will make. But before actually signing, he has a change of heart, saying publicly what he says in the movie: “I made one decision based on money in my life—when I signed with the Mets rather than go to Stanford—and I promised I’d never do it again.” So in essence, Billy Beane goes through the same process that he went through right before signing with the Mets, but this time does not go through with his commitment.
Epilogue: The Badger
- The story of Jeremy Brown, the misshapen catcher who stumbles while rounding first base, scrambles back to the bag, only to find out he has hit a home run, is straight from the book. We learn that Jeremy Brown goes from ridicule as the seemingly silly and misguided pick of the A’s in the first round of the amateur draft, to a player who is excelling in the minor leagues, moving up the ranks, because of his already acquired ability to control the strike zone by taking pitches and earning walks.
If you liked the baseball elements of the movie “Moneyball” (there are two very short mentions of Billy Beane’s personal life in the book—as indicated earlier, in my opinion the weakest part of the movie), you must read the Michael Lewis book. It is one of those books I hated to see end. With the deviations I’ve mentioned, the movie is faithful to the basic ideas of the book. The book just has so much more detail, rich detail written in an engaging style that will have you wishing for more, and wishing for a sequel!
Tags: books, books compared to movies, books into movies, Don Corleone, Francis Ford Coppola, Godfather, Mario Puzo, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, The Godfather
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Forty years ago today, “The Godfather” was released to movie audiences. It has survived as one of America’s classic films. On this occasion, here is a “Books-Into-Movies” post.
The movie “The Godfather” movie is one of the closest movies to the original book that I’ve come across in my posts on “Books-Into-Movies.” Many scenes, even lines of dialogue, are straight from the book. I started to prepare my customary synopsis of the book when I realized I was basically summarizing the movie! (So I will not post a synopsis here.) My approach to this post will be to point out differences between the book and the movie. Two considerations should be kept in mind: 1) This comparison refers to the 1972 movie, not the later “Godfather Saga” presented on television in 1977. (That production included some scenes not in the original movie.) 2) The Godfather book contains material used in “The Godfather II” movie.
- The book opens as the movie does, at Connie Corleone’s wedding, with Don Corleone granting favors. (The cat on Don Corleone’s lap is not described in the book, but is a nice touch consistent with the book’s characterization.) The wedding day ends with a most unusual request (this is dramatized in the “Godfather Saga”) not in the movie but in the book. Don Corleone’s Consigliori, his key adviser, is at the hospital with cancer, on his deathbed. He asks Don Corleone to intervene with God.
- The execution of traitor Pauli is almost exactly from the book except for the final line “leave the gun, take the cannolis” (which is not in the book).
- Luca Brasi’s murder scene is not dramatized in the book. We find out later he has been killed when the Corleone Family receives the “sleeps with fishes” message.
- The Michael Corleone events with police Captain McCluskey are almost completely the same as in the book. In the book, Puzo is able to go into the interior of the characters. We find out Sonny Corleone never doubts Michael can accomplish the murders of Mark McCluskey and Virgil Solozzo. (He is a war hero, after all.) He just wants to make sure Michael knows what he’s getting into. The movie implies Michael needs to convince Sonny. Also, in the movie, Don Corleone seems to want Michael uninvolved in the family business, maybe kept pure for future high office or title. In the book, Don Corleone and Michael Corleone are at odds with each other at the beginning because Michael seems so hostile to the family business and his father’s efforts to help him.
- The book offers a lot more about Don Corleone’s godson/celebrity singer, Johnny Fontaine. We learn more about Johnny Fontaine’s family life—his first wife, second wife, his iffy love life. And Don Corleone sets up Johnny Fontaine as a movie producer, bankrolling his productions. This also involves Johnny Fontaine bringing out fromNew Yorkhis childhood friend, also godson to Don Coreleone, to record as a singer and act in movies.
- Book III concerns Don Corleone’s early days. This is material used with little change in the movie “Godfather II.”
- In the book, Michael comes home fromSicilyafter Don Corleone arranges for a Sicilian man, from another Sicilian family, to confess to the murder of Virgil Solozzo and most importantly, Captain Mark McCluskey. (The man has already been sentenced to death for another murder.) This Sicilian family, the Bocchiccios, specialize in supplying hostages during negotiations between criminal organizations.
- More details of Lucy Mancini’s (Sonny’s mistress, shown just a few times in the movie) sexual functioning, including intimate details of an operation she has inLas Vegasafter Sonny’s death, are in the book—not in the movie. This also involves a storyline with Johnny Fontaine getting his hoarse voice corrected with the help of Lucy Mancini’s doctor/”boyfriend,” who discovers warts on the singer’s vocal cords.
- Michael’s stay inItalyis also directly from the book. Added in the book is a rivetingly disturbing story from a widow inSicilyabout how Don Corleone and Luca Brasi started their association. In the book, we get a little more information on Appollonia. While she’s walking with Michael during their courtship, chaperoned by a parade of family members, she stumbles and Michael has to catch her. In the book we learn that as a child she was a “mountain goat and had not stumble on this path since she was an infant in diapers.”
- In the book, Kay initiates getting back in touch with Michael. Michael does not surprise her while she is teaching school as in the movie. Kay calls Michael’s mother six months after he returns to theUnited Statesand Michael’s mother invites her out to the family mall/compound to surprise him.
- The plans for the Corleone Family’s move toLas Vegasare in place, with Don Corleone’s advice and collaboration with Michael, before Don Corleone’s death. Don Corleone’s death is unanticipated (the death scene is less dramatic in the book—no Don Corleone running around with an orange peel in his mouth) and causes Michael to start his actions before he really wants to.
- In the movie, during the confirmation ceremony for Michael’s nephew, son of Connie and Carlo, all of the murders “settling Corleone Family business” are committed, intercut cleverly with the religious ceremony of Michael standing as his nephew’s godfather. The scene is backed by slow, reverent music. In the book, Moe Greene is killed inLas Vegasbefore the other murders. And the other murders take place after the confirmation ceremony. The book also contains a chilling back-story for the man dressed as a policeman who kills Don Barzini.
- In the book, Tom Hagen asks Michael Corleone ahead of time if Michael can let Tessio off the hook for his attempted betrayal. Michael says no. So when Tessio asks Tom Hagen,Hagenalready has Michael Corleone’s answer.
- In the book, it is implied Michael has just a smidgen of doubt that Carlo was involved in setting Sonny up for murder. When Carlo admits Don Barzini came to him to set up the murder, Carlo seals his fate.
- Don Corleone’s wife attends mass every morning to pray for the soul of her husband. The book ends with Kay Adams Corleone joining Michael’s mother for this ritual. Michael has begrudgingly discussed the “family business” with Kay long enough to lie to her about what he has done. And she clearly knows it is a lie.
- In the book, Connie rants hysterically against Michael, accusing him of killing Carlo, much of the dialogue directly from the book. But in the book, at the closing narrative, we find out Connie reconciles with Michael pretty quickly. Those who have seen “Godfather II” (probably just about anyone reading this blog) know that Connie takes much longer to reconcile with Michael in the Godfather movies.
- There is no material in The Godfather about Michael Corleone’s activities inLas Vegas after he “settles the family business inNew York,” about half the story depicted in “Godfather II.”
The bottom line of this post is that if you loved “The Godfather” movie, you’ll love the book as offering more depth and character interiors to what will be a very familiar story.
Books-Into-Movie Commentary – “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” February 10, 2012Posted 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.
Tags: book commentary, books, books compared to movies, books into movies, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks
“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.
Books-Into-Movies: “Tamara Drewe” (based on Tamara Drewe) December 22, 2011Posted by rwf1954 in book synopsis, books, books compared to movies, books into movies, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Posy Simmonds, Tamara Drewe.
Tags: book commentary, book synopsis, books compared to movies, books into movies, Posy Simmonds, Tamara Drewe
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(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.