Monday, August 14, 2017

The Glass Castle on Film

Click here to read last week's post focusing on the book.

While there were certain greatly noticeable changes made in the book to movie adaptation of The Glass Castle, I find that I can understand why the filmmakers made these changes--and such coherency isn't always the case in adaptations.

Part of it is timing. Jeannette and her siblings start off a little older in the movie and we see more time from when they are older children and even adults than in the book, where more is shown of them as very young children. This is practical: there are already three (three, right?) actors playing each of the children at different ages. It would be too much to have even more actors. And it's easier to play through crucial scenes with slightly older actors than very young actors.

There was also a mixed timeline. The book starts with a loosely-defined "present" and then moves into the past (childhood/youth) before finishing off with the present/adulthood again. The movie moves back and forth between the two, which I at first found a little strange. This change meant that certain notes fall at different times or places in the movie than in the book.

Most of the movie takes place in Welch, instead of showing the family's time in the Southwest. I particularly missed getting to see early Phoenix on film. I also didn't like this change because I felt that the move to Welch represented the loss of hope. Before Welch, the family was doing okay (well, sometimes and in some ways) and the children still had some degree of faith in their parents. In Welch, the children lost that faith as their parents just let everything physical fall downhill--and the children, in light of that, grew up and took it on themselves to try and take care of one another. So from that sense I don't like this change in the movie. However, in another sense this change just meant that, once more, notes just fell in different places/times.

One more change. While the book maintains that direct telling-of-truth tone (it's easy to picture Jeannette with a background in journalism) and lets the readers put everything together themselves, the movie gathers all the little threads and knits them together into a central theme. I glanced at one review that condemned the film for this, basically stating that it made the story shallow. I can kind of understand: the focus went more onto maintaining love for the parents than on understanding to get out of a bad situation. So part of the power may have been lost: we all know that we're supposed to try and keep love for our parents but it can be harder for people who have been raised in bad situations to be able to say that those situations were negative and that they deserve and can have better (while also understanding that to say this isn't to say that you hate or disrespect your parents).

Ultimately, though, I'm going to go with what I've said twice already: the notes just fell in different places. I still felt the same things watching this film as I did in reading the book--and that's the main point. What this film did was take what readers got out of the book and make that into the film. It's almost like when Andrew Adams tried to make The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe into an action film because that's what he remembered getting from the book as a child (although the problem there was that he missed out on what was important about the story--it wasn't the "exciting" parts). Fortunately, in this case the filmmakers better understood what mattered in The Glass Castle. So while, yes, adaptations can be difficult to approach, I find that this was one of the better ones I've seen.

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