The Trick Failed: Why The Novel "The Goldfinch", In Principle, Could Not Be Filmed

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The Trick Failed: Why The Novel "The Goldfinch", In Principle, Could Not Be Filmed
The Trick Failed: Why The Novel "The Goldfinch", In Principle, Could Not Be Filmed
Anonim

Donna Tartt's novel The Goldfinch was greeted with great enthusiasm in 2013, winning a Pulitzer Prize and spending more than 30 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The adaptation of the book was accepted much more modestly: some film critics spoke of him as "a fettered bird, so tightly attached to its source material that it has nowhere to fly." Some have even likened it to "a Pinterest page or a piece of fan art."

Many of the negative reviews indicate that the book's limitless 771-page length is fundamentally unsuitable for film adaptation and might be more suited to a TV miniseries. But there are many precedents for long novels that have received successful adaptations, from Moby Dick (635 pages) to Gone With the Wind (1,037 pages). Although the length of The Goldfinch is definitely not in his favor. There are also several other reasons why this vast story has proven difficult to adapt to the film format.

The novel's plot structure is too unconventional

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Many successful films are based on a five-act dramatic structure that propelled the story from the Greek dramas: gradual rise, climax, and denouement. But The Goldfinch doesn’t have this “neatness”: it starts with a tragedy - an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum, in which the mother of the protagonist, Theo, dies, and then languidly drifts through surreal situations before reaching the finale.

The book's asymmetrical rhythm - long idle moments followed by wild twists - is completely purposeful: it is intended to reflect the contingency of life as well as the long road to recovery from injury. The book's arid middle, set in Las Vegas, is also one of its strongest sections: the expanse of sand and mosquitoes is a purgatory that creates excruciating uncertainty and shapes Theo's drug addiction and lawlessness. This vague stagnation is so engrossing that when Tartt sends Theo back to New York, he feels refreshed as if he were emerging from a long underwater spell.

But in the film, this passage is not only compressed, but, in general, is devoid of its nihilistic connotation and is reduced to teenage jokes and the conflict of fathers and children. His brevity also makes Theo's return to the Barbour family, who adopted him after his mother's death, predictable and exhausting.

Meanwhile, the last act of the film is imposed so often that it loses the "maniac" that is clearly read in the book history.

Theo's outward appearance is much less interesting than his inner experiences

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Outside, Theo Decker (played by Oax Feegley as a child and Ansel Elgort as a young man) is not a convincing character in the film. He is passive and quiet, often using monosyllabic phrases in conversation.

But inside he has constant dialogues and monologues. When Theo says one thing, he usually thinks something completely different - and the loss of that subtext in the film makes his character wooden. For example, his comment on Keatsy that they are moving forward in the relationship "with their heads, not their hearts" is taken like face value in the film. But in the book, this is followed by a prolonged outburst of anxiety and despair: “I felt almost suffocated by the weight of all the unknown,” he admits to the reader.

Depressive episodes like this are mostly portrayed in the film through infrequent voices or scenes while under stimulants. On the contrary, the novel traces his harrowing and constant struggle against depression and addiction through his writing - cold and honest; he often projects his sadness onto the world around him.

The film also does not take a creative approach to Theo's altered states of consciousness caused by psychoactive substances, which are frequent and necessary for the development of his character to show how far from reality he is. Tartt portrays these moments vividly, describing them in appropriate language: "quivering shadows, static, hiss of an invisible projector … colorful and bright, like a decaying piece of a film." In contrast, the same scene in the movie has no special effects, quick cuts, or color changes.

Not enough time to render the depth of minor characters

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The cast that Tartt has endorsed is constantly surprising with deviations. In the book, after Theo makes his initial judgment on each of them, the characterization deepens as the story unfolds.

But through no fault of the actors, the film format simply does not have time to let them open up. An absent-minded and neurotic Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) turns into an easy, obsessive mentor. Mother Theo (Haley Whist) with her "cheerful, unpredictable qualities" and "exciting speed, sudden and light gestures" becomes almost an angelic mirage. And Boris (in the role of the adult Anairin Barnard), the most memorable character in the novel because of his extraordinary dialogues, cloudless abundance and wordless expressiveness, serves more as a weapon of Theo's destruction than a fully realized person.

Meanwhile, some of the minor characters that breathe life into the book and shape New York as an active and mutating environment are completely removed.

The meaning of The Goldfinch requires more attention than the film can give

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The novel's namesake, a Dutch painting by Carl Fabricius from 1654, is a Macguffin that serves many functions for the writer. It's an emotional anchor that brings Theo back to the days when his mother is alive. It is a stimulus to study the history of art and the ways in which art, which existed many centuries ago, can still influence us internally. It is the symbol of the city of New York. And he positions the novel as a palimpsest: a fragment of a letter in which many other texts, paintings and historical figures lie deeper than is visible on the surface.

At some points, Tartt expresses these meanings too clearly. “The painting was with a secret that lifted me above the surface of life and allowed me to know who I was,” says Theo at the end of the novel.

But the innumerable connections with which the author of the book fills the picture, the film is not able to show. In it, Goldfinch is basically just a picture. It is a masterpiece - stolen, then stolen and stolen again - it seems like it could be replaced by anything. Instead of making you wonder about the impermanence of fate, you just start thinking about why everyone is so interested in the little bird.

Text: Ana Lipartia.

Based on materials from TIME.com

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