The Soul of a Novel

Is it possible to take the soul out of a novel and insert it into its film adaptation?

Andre Bazin’s article, ‘Adaptation, or the cinema as digest’ argues that a novel cannot truly be adapted adequately in film form. We had a discussion in class about novels that we have read that have been or, are going to be adapted into a film. Most of us agreed that we feel like we MUST see this film that is coming from a novel that we love so much yet at the same time we feel like it just cannot be of the same quality of the novel. Bazin states similarly that, “I (he) suffered when I saw Devil in the Flesh, because I know Raymond Radiguet’s book; the spirit and “style” of that book had somehow been betrayed” (Bazin 25). This made me think of that discussion we had in class. We had discussed the new adaptation of The Great Gatsby and that, although a lot of us feel it probably won’t do justice to that book we love so much, we will probably go and see it out of sheer curiosity.; we want to know how this book will look to us on screen in a different artistic form.

It is always a difficult choice for me to decide on whether I would want to see the movie that is an adaptation of a book I love. For example, when I heard that there was going to be a film version of one of my favorite books, The Lovely Bones, I thought: “How on earth are they going to recreate a novel, especially with such subject manner, into a film?” I contemplated if I would want to watch the movie because I felt like they truly could not replicate this particular novel to the screen. I reluctantly decided to go and see the movie out of sheer curiosity. I ended up being extremely disappointed even though I knew a lot of the content in the novel would have to be cut out, I didn’t think that certain aspects of the novel would be completely changed. I feel like I have to agree with Bazin’s argument that the true soul of the novel cannot be completely given to the film adaptation.

I have to admit, I fell into this whole, Fifty Shades of Grey novel craze and when I had heard that this extremely provocative novel would be put onto the screen, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How could they possible render this onto the screen without completely cutting out pivotal parts of the novel?” I feel like the novel will be completely butchered and ruined, because a lot of it is not appropriate for main stream movies, but I do not think that it will stop me from being there opening night…

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4 Responses to The Soul of a Novel

  1. Mike Salerno says:

    I also share your desire to see the film adaptation of a book or story that I’ve read, mostly because I love to see other interpretations or visions of the work. In recent years, I’ve been trying to distance myself from Bazin’s notion that films don’t have the same ‘soul’ as their literary counterpart. Instead, I find myself looking at a work of art from the perspective of the pyramid that Bazin describes at the end of his piece “The Cinema as Digest.” With the work of art at the apex of the pyramid, and the sides representing the various forms the art may take over the years, the author is slowly removed from the equation (although I don’t think he should be removed entirely) and one is left with a very robust, multi-dimensional interpretation. One could even create an infinitely large three-dimensional shape with all the different types of adaptation that exist (song, dance, visual art, video game, etc.). Which one is best? Which one captures the soul of the original work most effectively? The debates that exist in attempting to answer these questions will never go away but, in the end, are they that important? Bazin even states in his article that even though a movie may not capture the spirit of a work of literature, the movie may still be a groundbreaking achievement in its own right.

    I haven’t seen nor read The Hunger Games yet, but I’m looking forward to both. I’m also hoping that my old instincts of criticizing adaptations are tempered with the knowledge that, although the movie might be very different, it may still be an excellent movie on its own merits.

  2. As a resident nerd, I too look forward to many adaptions of stories I have enjoyed in various formats (short stories, graphic novels, novels, etc.). Though more often than not these films fail to create an inclusive and encompassing representation of that which I have enjoyed so much, I cannot help but indulge in the vast majority of film adaptations released.

    I think that the quote you’ve pulled from Bazin, “the spirit and “style” of that book had somehow been betrayed” (Bazin 25) illustrates a certain elitist mindset perfectly. When the viewer knows, or is familiar with the original work, there is a certain insiders feel. With this, the work gains a personality that is unique to each individual, and impossible to recreate; however, this does not sway film makers from trying to.

    For example, the film Watchmen, based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel. The film desperately strives to recreate the original work panel for panel, page for page. But, in doing this it hollows the themes, tone, and weight of the characters, the world, and the story. Sure, its a serviceable movie, but it neither recreates in an original or inspired way, nor captures the original accurately.

    As I now begin to ramble, my point is this, filmmakers should avoid the copy and paste method, not entirely, but to a point. As Woolf separated films and novels as separate entities, and Bazin identifies the distinction of essence and soul, so should filmmakers in the way they move to translate works to the screen.

  3. amelia daly says:

    Bazin says that “mountain climbing has not yet replaced walking on solid ground” in reference to putting high art in its place. I think it is funny how “high brow” his language is at the end of the essay. Regardless, I agree with him that an intellectual, kind of knee jerk reflex, against adaptations predisposes criticism and disappointment in them.

    I agree that almost 100% of the time I see a film based on a favorite novel, I am disappointed. I have come to realize in recent years that this is wholly my fault. I think that entering a film with expectations, adaptation or not, results in finding fault in the film. So I have quit watching previews and I have decided to watch adaptations with more curiosity than expectation. This simple change has resulted in much more satisfaction.

    I can’t help but equate film adaptation with all other types of adaptation. I was pleased to read Bazin and see his reference to engraving. I think of painting. Artists create with paint snapshots of stories from their perspective on their chosen surface (canvas, wood, etc. ). I keep thinking of Brueghel’s “Icarus” as well as the Auden poem adapted from it. Why is there not more criticism with these forms? Below is the end:

    In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
    Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
    Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
    But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
    As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
    Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
    Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
    had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

    –W. H. Auden, 1938, 1940

  4. Melissa M says:

    I will have to be the one to disagree here. What if the writers such as Suzanne Collins from Hunger Games, J.K Rowling from Harry Potter and Stephen Chbosky from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, have their hands dipped into the screen play? Doesn’t their image of what they wrote, get put into actual vision by writing and over seeing the screenplay. Stephen Chbosky is even directing The Perks of Being a Wallflower! So I am envisioning that the film will directly be the novel as I had pictured it. For me, the Harry Potter series was done justice by the film makers. Possibly because J. K. Rowling had creative control on the film series.

    I disagree with Bazin’s article, that a novel cannot truly be adapted in film form because in some cases it does happen depending on the certain people involved in the film making. It also depends on the novel, like mentioned about, Fifty Shades of Grey, is meant to be novel. It is the author’s motivate for the imagination to play a role with the text.

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