Thursday, July 12, 2007

Book vs Movie

I just finished reading P.D. James' Children of Men, and I find myself liking the movie more than the book. This is a rare thing. I can count the number on one hand of movies I've liked more than the books.


One obvious difference is that P.D. James is just a dense writer. The psychology of her character is more important than the plot in many ways, and her books are measured meditations on humanity. To mix some metaphors, a movie could only ever hope to sketch the kind of depths she tends to plumb.

I was surprised however, to find, that the movie was only loosely based on the book. If you haven't seen it, the movie is a quick descent into hell, moderated by occassional moments of purgatory and a laugh or two. The movie's plotline seems more like a second story set in the same world, with the same setup, but with completely different people (it so happens some of whom happen to share names and one shares the same occupation). Its remarkable how little dialog or even the action is shared.

The writers of the movie have clearly been informed by the events since 911, and the increasing pressures of globalization Immigrants are mentioned in the book, but we never see any, there is no trip to a refugee camp, no "'fugees". The character pregnant in the book is an older white woman. The movie feels much more realistic for it.

But at the heart of why I like it better is because the characters are much more sympathetic. The book's main character is an aloof arrogant professor once very closely tied to the government, in the movie, he's one of us, being used really, and stumbling into a situation he has little control over. His great old friend in the movie, is an awful old oxford don. It was hard to find any character that was particularly likeable in the book.

For the movie, you could almost find yourself in anyone's shoes. There's no particularly evil people, even the person you hate the most is acting out of a kind of love, almost everyone is acting in what they see as their own best self interest. The movie shows perhaps where that can lead: to much evil that is certain, but also to some good.

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