Monday, November 27, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Constant Gardener (2005) - Adaption: Intent or Content?

[Quick Summary: After his activist wife is killed mysteriously in Nairobi, a mid-level British official finds answers in governmental and corporate treachery.]

It's rare that an author loves his book's adaption. Here, Le Carre does:
Why was this one so good? Why do I keep watching it and feel none of the usual alienation? p. v.
Ah, isn't that the million dollar question? We all know films that are absolutely true to the book...and deadly boring. So what makes a good adaption?

Screenwriter @HIGHzurrer has offered these wise words on adaptions:
For me it boils down to how a story makes me feel. Recapturing that feeling goes a long way to honoring the source material. Literature can give you the EXACT motivations, clear as day, without the character acting or speaking. Impossible visually. I feel like you either have to capture the intent or the content. But not both. (emphasis mine)
Let's look at today's script and the choices that were made.

In the novel, Tessa dies on p. 1.  In the script, she dies around p. 40.

Then from p. 1-40, we're shown:
- Tessa and Justin's marriage dynamics (she's outgoing, he's reserved)
- how they interact with their peers, people in need
- how Tessa charmed others to help her help others in need
- who is powerful, who isn't, etc.

As a result:
- I believed in Tessa and Justin's love story. 
- I believed Justin, this mild mannered, reserved fellow, would pursue her killer to the ends of the earth.

As an audience member, I did not have access to Justin's internal thoughts (as in a novel). I needed to see the couple interacting for their connection to be "real" to me.

The scene below takes place early in the script.  At first, I thought he was suspicious.  On a second read, I saw that he is trying to protect her by deleting the email.

An interesting insight into their relationship, no?


...Justin clicks on the message. The sender isn't identified, but the message originates from the High Commission's communal e-ail address.

It reads: "What were you and Arnold Bluhm doing in the Nairobi Hilton Sunday night? Does Justin know?"

Justin stares at it a moment, then deletes the message as Tessa enters from the bathroom, still in her underwear.

TESSA (cont'd): What was it?


TESSA: The e-mail.

JUSTIN: Oh...junk. Some ad.


JUSTIN: The Nairobi Hilton.

He waits for a response. There isn't one.

JUSTIN (cont'd): Weekend package deal. Two nights for the price of one.

She indicates her pregnant abdomen.

TESSA: Two guests for the price of one.

...and exits to the landing.

Justin closes his screen, no longer in the mood to write. On Tessa's Desktop we now see a variety of folders, among them: "HOUSEHOLD"; "KIBERA"; "AFRICAN WOMEN'S FOUNDATION"; "HAM"; "ARNOLD'S LINKS"; "GRACE MAKANGA".

A moment, then Justin clicks on "ARNOLD'S LINKS". Receives the prompt: "ENTER PASSWORD". He tries to access "KIBERA". Same result. He stands and leaves the room."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Sometimes the best that a film can do is capture the "feel" of a book.*

The Constant Gardener (2005)(dated 3/8/04)
by Jeffrey Caine
Based on the novel by John Le Carre

*I used to believe that deviating from the book was a bad thing.  I had no idea what "film is a different medium" meant.

Now I understand that it's often necessary. Books can do things that film cannot. Books can explain thoughts and motivations, but films cannot explain, only show.

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