Wednesday, October 12, 2011

From Page to Film: The Children of Men

I am a purist when it comes to book to film translations. I like to read a good book and then see it translated onto the screen in a way that matches my vision or at least comes close to the original text. One of my biggest pet peeves is when the film misses out the entire point of the novel or glosses over things I deemed important in my reading. Many people say they try to keep films and book separate and to some extent I do too. However, I do feel that when a film is adapted from a book a certain amount of looking at the source must occur because that is where the material came from. It is not necessarily about 'faithfulness' to the book, it is more about capturing the essence correctly.
That is why reading The Children of Men by P.D. James and watching the 2006 film by Alfonso Cuarón are two completely different experiences.

I loved James' novel and its look at what the world would be like without children and subsequently hope for future generations. The story began slow, but it is so important because it worked to establish the characters and the bleak reality of the world they inhabit. The characters are complex, particularly that of Theo and his cousin Xan who is completely trivialized in the film version. One of my favorite parts of the novel was the ending. It was dark and yet hopeful, ambiguous and yet clear. I love endings like that; ones that tease you and make you think long after you put the novel down. I was really excited upon finishing the novel to see it all played out on the screen.
The film however seemed to only take the main characters names and the premise because everything else was completely different. In the book, Julian is the one who is pregnant and she is definitely not Theo's ex-wife. I was so mad at the seemingly unnecessary changes. I felt that Cuarón went out of his way to make an unnecessary political statement. The film makes such a point to hit the viewer over the head with ideas about immigration and globalization. The book was much more subtle on those themes, but more effective because it made the reader think. 
Another thing that annoyed me was the casting. Clive Owen was not at all how I pictured Theo since in the novel he is described as an aging Oxford historian. In the book he spends most of his time reminiscing about the past and punishing himself for what he has done. He is a deeply flawed, complex character. Owen is too likeable, too willing to jump in and help, not at all like Theo in the novel. There are so many character changes I can't even discuss them all, but I will say that making Kee the pregnant one seemed to be more for shock value and political purpose than anything else. Also, I felt that her character was not easy to sympathize with and annoying at times. None of the characters in the film were particularly likeable and they died before the viewer had a chance to really feel any sort of connection with them.I just felt that a lot of character and plot development were sacrificed in the name of action.