For all of the criticism over the overuse of ‘fidelity’ in criticism of film adaptations, I wonder: does it play a larger role than McFarlane allows when discussing what constitutes a ‘true’ adaptation? He introduces the concept of ‘transfer’ into the mix to differentiate narrative elements in a text that are independent of the text’s form from those that are dependent. The former can be transferred from novel to film, while the latter can not. The base elements of a story seem to be transferrable…if in a novel boy meets then loses girl, these events can be transferred to a film as is. He looks to Barthes in defining such elements as ‘cardinal functions’. This concept seems quite similar to one brought up in Andrew’s essay, specifically that of fidelity of physical transformation, where the skeleton of the story is seen regardless of format. Or rather, it is preserved when adapting from one to the other. McFarlane notes, somewhat derisively that the “film-maker bent on ‘faithful’ adaptation must, as a basis for such an enterprise, seek to preserve the major cardinal functions” (14). Cardinal functions serve on the axis of syntagm–the horizontal axis of positioning–where the rules of the story are structured.
The vertical, paradigmatic, axis–that of substitution (or metaphor)–is evidenced by integrational functions called ‘indices’, are concerned with physical and psychological identifiers for elements of a story. Per McFarlane they influence pervasively rather than linearly and refer not “to operations but to a functionality of being” (13). While some of these indices are transferable to film (such as physical descriptions) those that “relate to concepts such as character and atmosphere” (14) are better suited for adaptation. Adaptation then seems to be the reformulation of a paradigm appropriate only for one mode into one appropriate for the mode of the adaptation. A concept which again seems to echo Andrew, especially in his discussion of the fidelity of spiritual adaptation, where the ‘essence’ of a text is adapted from one medium to another.
Besides McFarlane’s Barthesian concepts seeming to be reformulated versions of the fidelity of physical and spiritual adaptations as described by Andrew, there may be another role that highlights the importance of fidelity. As stated by McFarlane differences in cardinal functions are easy to detect and cause great distress when a film adaptation is compared to the novel on which it was based. Differences in indices can similarly evoke derision or possibly even praise for the director for, say, translating verbal metaphor to film. Regardless of whether or not fidelity to the ‘source’ text is a good/bad thing, attention to fidelity serves to form/frame a dialogue between the adaptation and the adapted…the differences in the texts (the degree to which fidelity is maintained) are what bring to light the issues presented in McFarlane’s subsequent intertextual criticism of adaptation.