I work very hard to be judicious with the vast power conferred upon me by this blog. This means, as much as possible, keeping to the positive, focusing on the good things in life and in culture. But every once in a while I feel obligated to warn you, the innocent and delicate public at large, away from something particularly pernicious.
For instance, you may have read Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Everything Is Illuminated and be asking yourself, why don’t I go ahead and see the movie as well, just for curiosity’s sake? Or conversely, you may be thinking you can save yourself the trouble of reading it by the age-old subterfuge of watching the film instead.
I’m here to tell you that in either case, you are making a tragic error. Leadfoot and I both recently read the book and figured we would further stimulate our intellects with Liev Schreiber’s cinematic adaptation starring Elijah Wood.
In a word: Ugh.
I tried, really tried to give this film a break — partly because I hate to be one of those snooty people who always want to tell you how much better the book was, and partly because I’m a fan of Schreiber’s acting work. Certainly I was fully forewarned that it would be very different from the book; there was no way Safran Foer’s use of multiple voices and novelistic flights of fancy could be rendered visually. But even taken on its own terms, the movie is dreadful (I hesitate to call it Everything Is Illuminated; it doesn’t deserve to be called that — maybe “Everything Is Clunky and Unconvincing” would be better.) This is some kind of perfect storm of bad movie adaptations: They take the title, the names of the characters, and one of the plotlines, throw it up onscreen with a few Holocaust references and a character’s death that seems totally gratuitous in this context, and call it a day.
If I were JSF, I would sue everyone involved in this disaster. I’m sure he got well paid and all, but it must be mortifying as a writer to have your work so heinously misrepresented. Not only do you have people all over the world mistakenly thinking that the dreck they just sat through is the same as what you wrote, but suddenly the most common edition of your book is one with an image from the movie on the cover. Could any amount of money be worth that? Well, probably. If anyone’s interested in buying this blog entry and adapting it as anything at all, please write a number on a napkin and mail it to my representatives at the Tainted Lake Agency, Oakland, CA. We’ll sit down over the Thanksgiving holiday, toss back a few Manhattans, and talk turkey.
In the meantime, best avoid any movies purporting to be based on novels, just to be on the safe side. That means The Kite Runner is out, and also the new Coen brothers movie. Too bad, but how can I help you if you don’t do as I say?