What Does an Adaptation Need?

     When a film is being adapted from a literary counterpart, anything can happen. Some bad films have been adaptations like the 1973 film A Doll's House, directed by Joseph Losey and based on Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play. And some wonderful films have been adaptations like A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), directed by Elia Kazan and based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play. What makes an adaptation successful? The main idea of the film's literary counterpart should still be there. The characters should be as rounded and interesting in the films as in the literary counterpart. And the film should add a new visual element to the story that will enhance the overall product.

     I do not believe that Joseph Losey's A Doll's House was able to capture any of these elements. Henrik Ibsen's original message of a woman coming to terms with world around her was lost. Jane Fonda's feminist views overshadowed everything else as she played the characters of Nora. The film became Fonda's platform on which she spoke, which was not what Ibsen would have wanted for his play.

     The second reason this film was not a good adaptation was the lack of true characters. Did Nora and Torvald (David Warner) really seem to be in love? Of course not, I saw them as just actors say rehearsed lines. I was never allowed to believe that these people really existed.

     The last reason why Losey's A Doll's House was not a good adaptation was that the visual element actually took away from the original story instead of enhancing it. Nora was almost always outside in the snow. This opened the story up from its original setting of being all indoors. Being set outside took away from the closeness and confinement that the story needed.

     A good example of a successful film adaptation from its literary counterpart is the film A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan. It combined all the needed elements to have a great movie. The film captured the original essence of Tennessee Williams' play. A woman in slow descent from a southern belle to a desperate, crazy woman was shown wonderfully in the film. Vivien Leigh, who played Blanche, was able to show her character slowly becoming detached from reality, while Marlon Brando effectively portrayed the way Stanley, her brother-in-law, helped her change from sane to insane.

     Next, all the characters were very well rounded and believable. I saw them as being real people. And unlike the characters in Losey's A Doll's House, I had no problem getting emotional about them. I really started to hate all of the characters, which seemed to be the reaction that Tennessee Williams wanted.

     Last, A Streetcar Named Desire's visual element added a lot to the story. To see how hot and cramped-up where Stella (Kim Hunter) and Stanley lived just added to the experience. I felt trapped just watching it.

     The whole reason for making an adaptation is to add something to the literary work. I feel that, while Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire was able to reach this goal, Losey's A Doll's House fell quite short of it.

Lisa Graham

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