Monday, 16 January 2012

Same story, just different...

Last Thursday I went to the cinema with three girlfriends.

To be honest, I rarely do this because Mr Black doesn't get home from work 'til 8.30pm at the earliest, and I worry the children will burn down the house, kill one another or eat the dog, if I head out of the house before he heads in. I recall a stern telephone conversation from Green Park tube station where I was telling my daughter that no, she should not boil an egg. When I say stern , you understand that that is middle class bullshit for shouting right? Commuters all around frowned at me while I screamed into my mobile, 'do not ruin my one night out a year by getting third degree burns! Do you hear me lady?'

Anway, I threw caution to the wind and left 'em to it on Thursday because we had tickets for We Need To Talk About Kevin.

I don't know if you've read the book. If you haven't, do so immediately. It is a work of - and I use this word advisedly - genius. It is the sort of book that, as a writer, you shake your head in awe at the intricacy on display. It's all there; voice, unreliable narrator, structure, tension, twist in the tale. The author, Lionel Shriver plays a blinder.

So I was really excited to see the film. I wasn't sure what to expect. I mean, we've all seen adaptations of books we love and hated them right? Personally, I don't know if I'll ever get over Fight Club. God knows I could look at Brad Pitt all freaking day but that film was a travesty I tell ya, a travesty.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those nay sayers who think all adaptations are rubbish. That the silver screen can never match the glory of the written word. I don't think that at all. Probably my fave book of all time is Trainspotting, or at leats it would come in my top five. And I bloody love that film too. Danny Boyle takes all the elements that make the novel seminal (the rock n roll cool factor, the complete lack of judgmentalism about drugs, the voices) and incorporates them into his film. What he doesn't do is try to follow the plot, such as it is, too closely or worry about the things that a book can do and a film can't. He leaves them be and runs with what a film can do that a book can't - a soundtrack for one.

Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin follows the same path in that the director leaves many of the central themes that she cannot replicate in cinema well alone, instead concentrating on breathtaking cinematography and symbolism that any shrink would be proud of. It is a feast for the eyes. The actors are all fabulous.
As a film it is both dazzlingly beautiful and unremittingly bleak.

But here's the thing. The book isn't either of those things. Where Danny Boyle ran with the original's coolth factor, just giving it to us differently, Lynne Ramsay skips what to my mind is the totem pole of the book, it's spine if you like. The thing that makes We Need To Talk About Kevin a page turner, and it is, despite knowing early on in proceedings what happens, was the reader's inability to guess where the truth lay. Was Kevin evil from birth? Or did his Mother simply hate him from birth? It is the central question which rages on every page...without it there is no We Need To Talk About Kevin. There is just a (undeniably beautiful) depiction of the aftermath of a horrible crime.

And speaking of which, I discovered when I got home that the kids hadn't eaten the dog but nor had they taken her out for an evening poo...


JO said...

Thanks for this. I, too, thought Kevin was an astonishing book. I'm reluctant to see the film - I can't see how you can get all those nuances into film. You might just have helped me make up my mind.

Helen Black said...

I do think it's worth seeing, Jo. In and of itself it is a great film.
HB x

Susie Nott-Bower said...

I've actually been put off seeing the film or reading the book because it sounds so menacing and awful. Wimpy or wot?

Caroline Green said...

Am really dying to see this film because I too loved the book. Sometimes a movie adaption can really turn a brilliant story into something else that is brilliant but in a different way. For me Notes from a Scandal achieved that too.

Gillian McDade said...

Oh dear, I hated this book,. It wore me down, but I wouldn't mind seeing the film.

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Fionnuala said...

I loved the book - in my top five. Im always a bit wary of seeing a film of a book Ive loved but after reading this will give it a go! x

Debs Riccio said...

I'm with Gillian - the book wore me down. I can't say I didn't enjoy it but I couldn't bring myself to pick it up again. Looking forward to seeing how it's adapted to celuloid (showing my age!)