A recent interesting comment exchange with Melanie, who blogs at Grab the Lapels, and an interesting post from FictionFan, who blogs at FictionFan’s Book Reviews, have gotten me thinking about the difference between books and their film adaptations. More to the point, they’ve gotten me thinking about whether we’re more willing to suspend disbelief for film than for a book.
Most readers will tell you that, for the most part, they want their books to be credible. Books are, of course, fiction, so there’s likely to be at least a bit of suspension of disbelief. But at the same time, most readers do want a sense of authenticity about what they read.
Is it the same for films? Do we want more credibility in books or films, or does it not matter? For instance, John Hart’s The Last Child features thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon, whose twin sister Alyssa went missing a year before the events in the novel. He’s determined to find her, or at least find out the truth about her, and one important plot thread is his search for answers. At one point, he’s skipping school for the day, spending time at a local lake. That’s when he sees a car accident on a nearby bridge, and a man’s body hurtle over the bridge and land near him. The man turns out to be very important to the mystery, and it’s a legitimate question to ask whether that’s too much of a coincidence. That’s the question Melanie raised, and I’m glad she did. Each person, of course, has a different response, which makes it a bit difficult for authors. But it highlights the issue.
To my knowledge, The Last Child hasn’t been adapted for film as yet (but please, someone, put me right if I’m wrong). But if it were, would that scene be more believable? Would viewers think it required too much suspension of disbelief? It does have quite a strong visual impact, so one could easily see it adding to the film. Perhaps that might encourage viewers to be more accepting of it. But perhaps not.
FictionFan reviewed Michael Apted’s 2001 film adaptation of Robert Harris’ Enigma. This is the WWII-era story of Tom Jericho, a mathematician who’s working with the Bletchley Park team to try to break the Enigma code. There’s also a plot thread involving his relationship with Claire Romilly, a clerk who works on the Bletchley Park property. In her review, FictionFan mentions several important differences between the film and the novel. The novel makes it clear how difficult life was in England during the war. Food and fuel were strictly rationed, and most people couldn’t afford more than the very basics, if they had those. It was a time, as you’ll no doubt know, of real privation. FictionFan points out that the film isn’t accurate about that point, and it makes a major difference. So does the weather. In the novel, it’s very clear that people suffered quite a lot during the winter, when there was barely enough fuel available to keep a home warm enough to manage. As FictionFan says, the film changes the weather quite a bit, so that it’s not realistic at all. There are other important differences, too, which FictionFan makes clear. You can read the entire review right here. And you should.
If you’ve seen the film and read the book, do those stretches of credibility bother you? If you’ve not seen the film, would you be forgiving of the need to suspend disbelief? Would the format matter?
The real action in Stephen King’s Misery begins when novelist Paul Sheldon decides on impulse to make a car trip from Colorado, where he’s been staying to work on a manuscript, to Los Angeles. He’s driving through the mountains when a snowstorm strikes, causing him to have a car accident and leaving him with severe injuries. He’s rescued by former nurse Annie Wilkes, who happens to be a dedicated fan of his work. If you’ve read the novel, or are at least somewhat familiar with King’s work, you’ll know that this rescue turns nightmarish for Sheldon. Some readers might see Annie’s finding her idol as requiring too much suspension of disbelief. Others don’t mind, seeing it as something that falls out credibly from the plot and from her personality. The film version also includes Annie Wilkes finding a badly wounded Sheldon and taking him back to her home. If you’ve seen the film, do you see that as too much of a coincidence? If you’ve read the novel, do you see a difference between the way you regard the book, and the way you regard the novel?
And then there are Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Since they’re spy thrillers, most readers expect to suspend disbelief. And some of the novels ask for more of this than do others. If you’ve read any of the novels, does that bother you? Or do you take it as part of the package, so to speak? If you’ve seen any of the James Bond films, you’ll know that they ask for at least as much suspension of disbelief as the novels do. Does that put you off the films?
You’ll notice that I’ve mentioned different sorts of novels here. Part of the reason for that is that I suspect that some of our willingness to give our disbelief a rest has to do with the sort of novel or film we’re reading or seeing. We may allow for more stretches of credibility in some kinds of stories than in others
What do you think of all of this? Do you forgive more lapses in credibility in films than you do in books? Thank you, Melanie and FictionFan, for the ‘food for thought.’ Folks, do please visit their excellent blogs. You won’t regret it.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rush’s Mystic Rhythms.