How Far Is Too Far?
I must admit as an English Literature student I do rather enjoy a good book. For me, an exciting narrative and immersive characters are difficult to beat; a day spent in the words written by someone else is rather close to my perfect day. Despite this, I also enjoy seeing my favourite narratives adapted to the big screen. Whether it is my friend, my boyfriend or my Mum, watching a film together can be exciting, emotional or funny and watching an adaption of a good book can be very enjoyable. Despite my enjoyment of adaptations, my biggest bugbear is when narratives are completely twisted when portrayed on screen, entirely spoiling an excellent book.
A perfect example of this irritating cinematic technique is My Sister’s Keeper, which is ‘based’ on the novel by Jodi Picoult. I say ‘based’ because the story is changed so dramatically that the end of the film barely resembles the actual story. For anyone who is missing out and hasn’t yet read My Sister’s Keeper, I strongly urge you to experience a novel that is full of sadness yet incredibly hopeful, with a stunning twist at the end. The power of this particular novel, that explores a young girl who is dying from cancer, is the complete reversal of the reader’s expectations. When I viewed the film I was extremely disappointed, as although it was a good film, the shock ending was removed – abolishing almost all the meaning the book offers for the reader.
For those yet to read this novel – *SPOILER ALERT*:
The story explores a deep relationship between two sisters, one who is dying from cancer and one who was born in order to donate her organs and blood to help her sister survive. The healthy sister begins a law suit to stop donating body parts, originally portrayed for selfish reasons. Unbeknownst to the reader, the dying sister has actually requested to be allowed to let go and die, after tiring from all her treatments. The film still stuck with this notion but it was the ending, effectively the moral, that they changed dramatically.
At the end of the novel, the healthy sister wins the lawsuit and is able to make her own decisions on whether to help her sister, which in turn frees her ill sister from living her life hospitalised. The book’s ending was a shock and unlike anything I had ever read before, I was totally unprepared for what I found out. After winning the lawsuit, the healthy sister is killed in a car accident and ends up donating all he organs to her dying sister – which saves her life. This powerful reversal of the narrative explores how strong love is, and how life never goes to plan. To expect one thing throughout the book and then to be thrown a curve ball is what makes literature so great.
When I watched the film adaptation, I was intrigued as to how they would play this scene out but as I soon discovered they had entirely changed this moral. Instead of this powerful twist, they had followed what the viewer expected – the girl with cancer died. Without the reversal and shocking ending, the film did not have half the impact of the book – and this unfortunately supported the debate that states that books are better than films. When I watched the film with others I was indignant and a little annoyed – I felt that my description of the novel was far greater than what we had witnessed on screen. The problem with this is often when watching a film, you decide to read the book – I didn’t think that this applied in this case. If you did choose to read My Sister’s Keeper after watching the film, you would be reading an entirely changed narrative.
*End of spoiler*
The problem with film adaptations is their inability to incorporate as much detail, but I don’t believe this is enough to change narratives so dramatically. Films should be able to encapsulate the power of original stories – depicted perfectly through words. If I were an author, I would be insulted to have my ideas altered almost beyond recognition. Film and literature are two very powerful mediums, but I would strongly argue that they should work together and create something true to the power of an originally incredible story.
What do you think about the film adaptations of you favourite novels? Can they ever live up to the book? Let us know in the comments below!