Monday, December 29, 2014

Wild & Lost

I.  Wild

To make a good movie of a book, you have to re-vision it. 

Wild is a good book: a young woman, Cheryl, sets out to burn off the painful accretions of her life by hiking 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Along the way she remembers the death of her mother and the failure of her marriage. 

Wild, the film, which I saw last night, illustrates the book faithfully. In reverencing the source material, however, the film doesn't enlarge it, it reduces it, like photos from a vacation.  The movie's not bad, but it plods along literally, telling us Cheryl's backstory in flashbacks; it doesn't translate it into the natural language of film: images & sounds. 

If I were to film a book, I'd start by asking, How could this be made as a silent movie? 
How far can the pictures–– faces and color and light and movement–– carry the story? 

Where visuals can't, can nonverbal sounds? 
Music? Or, must we resort to words here?

Along with that, I'd ask, What can we strip away? What's the kernel?
John Le Carre has said he doesn't mind movie makers cutting his books; it's like making a bouillon cube from an ox. 
Of course some films of books would still be wordy, such as To Kill a Mockingbird--though don't the images stay with you as much as the story?--the child's hand sorting objects in a cigar box; the reveal of Boo, ghostly, behind a door.

But Wild was too wordy---the words crowded out the weirdness of memory, of nature.
Memories don't present themselves in set-designed flashbacks.

_______________II. Lost Opportunity

I'd have liked to see Wild presented more like the wordless All Is Lost, also about a person alone in the wilderness (Robert Redford, at sea). 

Wild, of course, is about the memories we carry as much as physical survival, and All Is Lost is not concerned with emotional baggage.  In fact, Lost was too stripped down for me--without the inter- or intrapersonal, I wasn't terribly interested. 

Still, I was held by the film mastery of Lost, and it has stayed with me, while what I took from Wild is disappointment. Mild disappointment.
Cheryl isn't wild in the film, she's packaged.

III. Breaking Nature Open

The movie that best gets human nature in nature is this year's Force Majeure. Comparing it with Wild feels unfair, like comparing a sincere beginner's efforts with an Olympic performance. 

The story is, a shiny Swedish family goes on an Alpine ski vacation, and during a controlled avalanche that seems to be out of control, the father flees, leaving his wife and children in harm's way. 

There's dialogue and scraps of music, but featured is the sound of machinery ceaselessly running to control natural forces: explosions set off to release snow build-up; humming fleets of machines to groom the slopes; creaks and groans of tow pulleys, moving ski-walks.

The sounds are ominous, but the ski resort's machines work.
What breaks down is the social machine, and it's a thrill to watch the aftermath.  

Wild, in contrast, has the force of a refrigerator magnet. 


Zhoen said...

I like your idea, a movie of a book only works if the story would come across as a silent. Then the words can clarify, but aren't holding up the whole shebang.

Thinking now about Last Life in the Universe. And Cold Fever.

Fresca said...

"Cold Fever" looks fascinating! I'll put it on my list.

poodletail said...

"Force Majeure" is on my list now. It looks like a movie I'll like. I'm not surprised you weren't thrilled with "Wild". I read the book and hated it more with each page. Usually I'll gladly give up on a book that's not captivating me, I'd rather re-read an old favorite. But I kept thinking it would turn. She was so stupid and irresponsible! And so utterly without respect for the forces of nature! Ugh. Reese Witherspoon was cast perfectly for such a stupid person.

Fresca said...

POODLE: I am eager to hear what you think of "Force Majeure"---I think you would love it!

The book I hated the way you hated Wild was Eat, Pray, Love!!! Hated, hated it! Yet I still gave the movie a try (why?!?), and hated it too---left after 15 minutes, feeling embarrassed as an American for our stupid, self-indulgent preying on and gobbling up the world.

bink said...

One thing that kept bothering me in Wild was Reese Witherspoon--in the flashbacks-- playing a collage student, while her mother, played by Laura Dern, looked very much the same age (about 40.) Well, I did look them up: Laura Dern was years away from puberty when Reese was born. Petty, I know... but little jarring things like that take you out of the movie and make it hard to let it's story touch you.

The first time I remember being impressed with a book to movie, was One Flew Over the CooCoo's Nest. The book and the movie were so very different--and both were excellent. It taught me that being to literally faithful to book isn't as important as being faithful to the truth of the book.