The Original Truth of a Book

     Reading a book and watching a movie are my two favorite hobbies. I can escape from my own hectic world and get lost in theirs for a couple of hours. I have a problem, though, with viewing a film and reading the book of the same story. Many times I find I am very dissatisfied with one or the other. It always depends on which one I do first. If I read the book first, I am usually unhappy with the movie and vice versa. The book is almost always the original, so I do like to read it first because the author is the true storyteller. Movies are only adaptations. Of the films I watched in English 213, only two fulfilled my expectations. These were George Cukor's 1964 My Fair Lady and Elia Kazan's 1951 A Streetcar Named Desire. My expectations were totally dashed when I watched Joseph Losey's 1973 A Doll's House but were more satisfied with William Wyler's 1939 Wuthering Heights.

     I enjoyed reading the 1956 play version by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe of My Fair Lady; I enjoyed it because I had seen the film over ten times, and I was very pleased to see that the play resembled the movie. It went word for word as the film did. The play and movie were made only eight years apart, and I assume that the movie was taken directly from the play. The actors were also chosen well in this film. This is very important because, when someone reads a story, he or she has a mental image of the characters. A movie director must choose an actor that will be accepted universally, so as not to make the audience upset. Audrey Hepburn was very popular during that time period. Cukor knew he could not fail with her playing Eliza Doolittle to Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins. She possessed spunk and grace wrapped into one.

     I also loved the movie adaptation of Tennessee Williams' 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire. In this instance, I had read the play first. I could not put it down and enjoyed every word of it. I was leery, though, watching the movie. I just knew that it would be different from the play and make me upset. I was wrong. It fulfilled all of my expectations. The film and story followed along the same lines. All of the major themes and happenings were the same except for the ending. In the film, Stella (Kim Hunter) is seen leaving Stanley (Marlon Brando); and in the play she does not. I did not like the movie's ending, but it is so subtle that one barely notices it. We only slightly hear Stella say that she is never going back. Kazan may have done this for a reason because so much of the rest of the film resembled the play. The actors, once again, were superb. Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh "breathed" their roles. They were Stanley and Blanche. They were also very popular in their time. Although, with the enormous and dramatic side to this story, no-name actors would have even survived in these roles, the director really needed these particular popular actors that just about everyone loved to make the movie really come alive. Blanche and Leigh, with their acting skills, could carry out any role.

     I believe Joseph Losey's 1973 A Doll's House was the worst adaptation of a book. After reading Ibsen's 1879 play, I liked the story. Nora was not my favorite person, and I did not like the ending, but overall it was a nice read. After watching the film, I was disappointed. The film followed the story rather closely, but the movie was a bore. The acting ruined it. Jane Fonda became unbearable to watch as Nora Torvald. Her constant whining made me want to leave. The movie was also slow and filmed cheaply. There was nothing special about it.

     In another case, I found that one of the films did not provide a good adaptation, but I liked it better. This was a first for me. This was Emily Brontė's 1847 novel and William Wyler's 1939 film of Wuthering Heights. The film had many noticeable differences from the book. Characters were left out, and the ones that remained had new personalities. The characters in the film were not as involved and appeared to be nicer. Important scenes such as Catherine having a child were left out. In spite of this, I liked the movie better. I like love stories and that is exactly what the film was. I despised Catherine and Heathcliff in the novel, but I liked them in the film. One could see Catherine's (Sarita Wooten/Merle Oberon) love for Heathcliff (Rex Downing/Laurence Olivier) in the film. She treated him much kinder.

     Out of class, I have had had varying reactions to other books and movies versions. Three book-film combinations I can think of are The Horse Whisperer, Gone With the Wind, and The Last of the Mohicans. I read the novels The Horse Whisperer and Gone With the Wind first. I felt that I was a part of these books. Everything disappeared around me while I was reading. However, I read the book of The Last of the Mohicans last and was very disappointed.

     When it came time to watch the movie of The Horse Whisperer, directed in 1998 by Robert Redford, though, I could not believe what I saw. I almost walked out of the theater during the showing of this film. Everything was different. There was no love affair between the couple as there is in the book, and the ending was completely remade. In the book, the horse whisperer dies, and the woman he is having an affair with has his child. In the film, they (Robert Redford and Kristen Scott Thomas) kiss only once; and she leaves for home with him alive and well. I was enraged. The love affair was the main part of the story. How could that be left out?

     On the other hand, Gone With the Wind, directed in 1939 by Victor Fleming, is a movie that almost everyone loves. I own it and watch it repeatedly. There are too many differences, though. Characters are left out, including some of Scarlett's and Rhett's children, as well as major scenes. I suppose this had to be done, though, because of the extreme length of the novel.

     The Last of the Mohicans, directed in 1992 by Michael Mann, is my favorite movie. I can find no fault with it. For a book project, I decided to read the novel since I was so familiar with the film. That was a mistake. I put the book down before I was a quarter of the way through it. It was a totally different story and was very boring. I realized that, in order for the movie to be a success, the story had to be changed and romanticized a little. I stopped reading the book; so the movie would remain one of my favorites.

     Seeing that books and films based on the same story can be very different answers the question of whether or not viewing a film can make the understanding of written literature easier. Many times people will view a movie first, thinking they will understand the book. After this they only become confused because there were so many differences. They end up having to decide between the two. The book is the original, and in my opinion, the true story. When the movie is changed, the author's view has been tampered with, sometimes for the good, other times for the bad. If a person wants to understand the true meaning of a story, as a general rule, he or she must read the book and study it. For the most part, just watching a filmed adaptation will never suffice.

     Overall, a book and a movie are two opposing forces. The book is the original and will always remain as the base. Movies can only imitate. Many movies are good adaptations with excellent actors, while others are poorly made. If an audience wants to know the true story, the movie alone is not usually the route to take.

Andrea Lea Yates

Table of Contents