My understanding and interpretation of the idea of ‘adaptation’ has changed drastically in the last few years. Originally I was under the impression that a film adaptation should directly imitate the subject matter of the original content, and what resulted was years of frustration toward film variations and an embarrassingly long-term relationship with the pretentious phrase “the book is better.” Not only is this phrase irrelevant (the two mediums do co-mingle but are still respected separately), but it disregards the liberties of creativity. Hitchcock once said “When you finish the script, the film is perfect. But in shooting it, you lose perhaps 40 percent of your original conception,” meaning that 𝘯𝘰 𝘮𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵, the page will always be denser than the screen. But by reinventing words to images we are completely altering their means of interpretation, meaning that expecting a replica is truly bizarre seeing as the imagination from reading is subjective, and what’s on screen is somewhat more distinctive. So, to be able to discuss the subjectivity of literature, the uniqueness of their dramatizations, and how they complement each other, I have only listed books that I have read. Grow up, Will.
My current understanding is that the only responsibility from a director when reinventing written work for the screen is to recreate the tone. An example of this is Cormac McCarthy’s bleak novel 𝘕𝘰 𝘊𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘳𝘺 𝘍𝘰𝘳 𝘖𝘭𝘥 𝘔𝘦𝘯 reimagined by Joel and Ethan Coen. McCarthy’s style of writing is extraordinarily individual, and it’s through this style that we grasp his bitter reluctance to share the story but acquiesce due to necessity. The Coen’s style is ironically similar by its idiosyncrasy, and whilst the adaptation differs from its source, the feeling of being trapped in a fatal moment in time is not just an auteur trope, but a bow to the sense of torment McCarthy invigorates.
Similar to this is F.F. Coppola’s interpretation of Mario Puzo’s novel 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘎𝘰𝘥𝘧𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳. Although missing some vital information from within the book (and rightfully so, the film is already 3-hours long), Coppola’s adaptation imitates the novels tone of paranoia, and how fearful we should be of ignorance. Hailed as one of the greatest creations to grace the silver screen, 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘎𝘰𝘥𝘧𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 is loyal to the book in its dismissal of valuable content, deciding to tighten its lips in fear of saying too much.
Where my definition of ‘adaptation’ becomes a little ambiguous is when talking about Paul Schrader’s 𝘔𝘪𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘮𝘢: 𝘈 𝘓𝘪𝘧𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘍𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘊𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘴, in which three of Yukio Mishima’s novels were dramatized for the screen amongst the backdrop of a biopic. Whilst not a direct adaptation of one specific piece, 𝘍𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘊𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘴 captures various published subconscious abstractions which the poet conjured, in contrast to his regimented tendencies. It’s through Schrader’s interpretations we almost understand and sympathise with the traditionalistic and suicidal artist, emotions most would hesitate to bare without seeing the beauty of his work reinvented on screen.
The fourth entry on this list does not need an explanation, nor did the visual medium need to adhere exactly to the source material (and couldn’t due to being based on the U.S. omitted version). Chaos was created and presented regardless, and controversy ensued due to the heavy and violent rendition of counterculture (whether satirical or not). Kubrick’s 𝘈 𝘊𝘭𝘰𝘤𝘬𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘬 𝘖𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦 is as critical of society as Burgess’ 1962 novel, and regardless of the ‘final chapter’ dismissal, the film epitomises all that is horrendous in humans and questions the censorship of art.
To finish off, I’ll take us all back to Year 12 English class. That’s right you lot. You heard me. The dramatic, ridiculous, and necrophiliac Tom Hardy in the 2-part T.V. film adaptation of Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel, 𝘞𝘶𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘏𝘦𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘴, finishes with a place. It has more of a cult presence than any legitimate cinematic prowess, so with that I’ll leave you with a one-word review:
1. 𝘕𝘰 𝘊𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘳𝘺 𝘍𝘰𝘳 𝘖𝘭𝘥 𝘔𝘦𝘯 (𝟸𝟶𝟶𝟽)
Dir. Coen Brothers
Author: Cormac McCarthy
2. 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘎𝘰𝘥𝘧𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 (𝟷𝟿𝟽𝟸)
Dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Author: Mario Puzo
3. 𝘔𝘪𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘮𝘢: 𝘈 𝘓𝘪𝘧𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘍𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘊𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘴 (𝟷𝟿𝟾𝟻)
Dir. Paul Schrader
Author: Yukio Mishima
4. 𝘈 𝘊𝘭𝘰𝘤𝘬𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘬 𝘖𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦 (𝟷𝟿𝟽𝟷)
Dir. Stanley Kubrick
Author: Anthony Burgess
5. 𝘞𝘶𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘏𝘦𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘴 (𝟸𝟶𝟶𝟿)
Dir. Coky Giedroyc
Author: Emily Brontë