Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Book or The Movie

I am currently reading Life of Pi. Having seen the movie and the vivid images it contained, only the strong recommendation of a friend now brings me to the book.

Two very different media. Strange bedfellows. My copy of Life of Pi bears a still from the movie on the cover and the words "Now A Major Motion Picture". People who have experienced neither book nor movie better get cracking here it seems to imply.

The usual progression is book to movie. We'll ignore those sad novels that are written from a script, following a movie or television show.

So which is better, the book or the movie? Since one is a spoiler for the other, which should it be? Is there a strategy for choosing which to experience first? Should I be scanning the news of upcoming films to see if I need to get in a book quickly?

A great book is no endorsement of the movie. One of my favourite novels is The Magus by John Fowles. Woody Allen once quipped that the only regret he had in life was going to see the film of The Magus.

I have always loved Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. At some point I read the source material, The Luck of Barry Lyndon, published in 1844 by William Makepeace Thackery. The disparity between book and movie is huge, but both creators achieve something unique. Kubrick gives us a straight rendering of the story, with only an unknown narrator joining in from time to time, all his words taken from Thackeray. And so Kubrick's skill as a film maker sweeps us along in the story. The final scene, two and a half minutes long, has four people around a table and although not a word is said the drama is
intense. Only a master could do this. Thackeray on the other hand has the main character tell the
story, and we quickly see two realities, his subjective rationalizations and biased views, versus the negative reactions of those around him to his raving egotism, which he continually misreads. This is the sort of social satire Thackeray was famous for, and that Kubrick has decided to not attempt in his film. The two men have largely created two different Barry Lyndons.

Books leave so much to the imagination, can interweave the exterior and interior worlds, handle great subtleties, use the poetry of words, say so much more in 350 pages than a film in ninety minutes, or even three hours. In a movie the characters are separate from us, there on the screen. In a book we are often aware of their thoughts and emotions and perhaps able to see them as ourselves.

Movies present us with ravishing images, can be wonderful blends of sounds or music. The sheer visual drama of a movie can be breathtaking, it's hard to imagine a writer doing equal justice to the Sun's Anvil sequence of David Lean's film Lawrence of Arabia. But perhaps someone could describe it, that immense space of heat, dryness, blinding light and flat nothingness.

I love both books and film but prefer books. That someone made a movie of a boy and a tiger adrift in a lifeboat on the Pacific, and managed to create so much visual interest, is impressive. But I'm finding the book richer, my identification with Pi more meaningful. Nevertheless some images from the film haunt me, in particular the liquid eyes of the adult Pi, the actor Irrfan Khan.

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