Friday, 5 August 2011

Irony Between Movies and Writing

This is merely an listing of some things I gathered over the years where the conversion of books into movies or related transitions produced effects that are incredibly ironic, even hilarious.

Forrest Gump

The movie Forrest Gump is based on a novel of the same name, written by one Winston Groom. It is nothing like the movie. In fact it is a bitter, biting satire and not cute in any sense. In the movie the character Forrest Gump is mentally handicapped, but nevertheless is lovable, successfull, charismatic and heroic, and when he messes up a situation it always works out well in the end.

The novel’s Forrest Gump is painfully mentally handicapped and produces absurd catastrophes continuously that make the reader cringe. It is not harmless fun, it is embarrassing most of the time. Despite this he has adventures that far exceed those in the movie, including a stint as a professional wrestler, and being shot into space by NASA. Expect a lot of bawdy humor!

As far as I could see the movie’s purpose was to put the character Forrest Gump into as many historic situations and footage as possible, using the best available technology of editing and special effects. Gump with Lennon, Gump with Kennedy etc. etc.

If you think that is a mighty original idea (as I did when I saw Forrest Gump for the first time), it really is not. Woody Allen’s “mockumentary” movie Zelig (made in 1983, eleven years before Forrest Gump) used the same idea and the same techniques to put Allen’s character, Leonard Zelig, into the 30s. And that is a truly brilliant, multilayer movie, among the best Woody Allen ever did. Highly recommended!

In short, the only thing the novel and the movie have in common is the title. And this fact can be highlighted perfectly with the help of a single sentence, which I find delightfully ironic. In fact, I believe the film’s makers were clearly aware that their project was not, strictly speaking, a film version of the book, and decided to place this hint on purpose.

The movie’s most famous tag line, as you know, is this:

Life is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re gonna get.

Whereas the novel’s very first sentence reads:

Life is not a box of chocoloates.

Leonard Nimoy

The ironic fact here is that renowned actor and TV personality Leonard Nimoy really became typecast as Star Trek’s Mister Spock. In 1977 he wrote an autobiography which he titled I Am Not Spock. If that is not ironic, I don’t know what is.

It seems that Star Trek fans (I am told they are divided into trekkies and trekkers, depending on the level of seriousness of their devotion) took offence of the title of that autobiography, which must have made Nimoy bang his head against the wall a bit.

Anyway, in 1995 he wrote a second part of his autobiography, whose title was—guess what?— I am Spock.

Cowboys and Aliens

This new movie, whose title basically describes its plot, is based on a graphic novel (as most movies seem to be these days). I have not seen the movie yet, and I don’t want to comment much on it, only the fact that it is not a comedy. And that is very ironic because, in the 80s, the idea of cowboys fighting alien beings, for renowned cartoonist Gary Larson (see also this one of my articles) clearly was a joke:

Cowboys and Aliens

(By the way: I did not upload this image, I just link to a version I found via Google. Therefore the copyright infringement is not mine. Just wanted to make that clear.)

In fact the Wikipedia page for the movie claims that the graphic novel was based on the cartoon, but does not back this claim with a quote. I do not believe it. There would have been no point for the novel’s artists to make a serious work from a single, humorous picture. I think it is just coincidence. But how ironic that a sarcastic joke could reappear as serious science-fiction action suspense movie.

Greek Man Looking for Greek Woman

This one might interest you least of all the examples I gave, but I just find it delightful. It is a novel by Swiss author and playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt, written in German. Its original title was Grieche sucht Griechin which is less unwieldy than the literal translation I gave above, thanks to the distinction of the sexes in the German language.

It is a strange, ironic novel that is rather light-hearted compared to the other works of Dürrenmatt (especially his theatric plays). It deals with a Greek man, a conservative, shy, lowly accountant called Arnolph Archilochos, who is fed up with remaining a virgin and therefore puts up a newspaper advert looking for a woman to marry. A Greek woman. He finds one and they enter a relationship. What he does not realise is that she works as a prostitute, one of the expensive kind. Soon Archilochos’ affairs begin to prosper, he gets money and promotions and honors, because all the people in positions of authority had been lovers and customers of his fiancée, and they take him under their wings out of gratitude. In the end of the novel he finds out about her past and has a breakdown, gets violent and drives away her and the guests of their wedding.

An unhappy ending, in short, but there is never any other kind with Dürrenmatt. Nevertheless he sarcastically wrote an epilogue to the novel titled “ending for lending libraries”, which added a stupid, shallow and very contrived happy ending. It seems he wanted to lampoon people who only read books for uplifting endings (and rented these books from libraries). Clearly it was only a joke.

The novel was made into a German movie in 1966 (black and white, starring then famous actor Heinz Rühmann). Guess, which ending they picked?

No comments:

Post a Comment