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Hollywood & Classic Lit: I Love You, But You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About

Written by Alexander Tucker   // 07/02/2012

Hollywood LiteratureWith the trailers for Anna Karenina and The Great Gatsby relatively hot off the presses it has certainly got me thinking about how Hollywood handles the translation of a classic. The main problem that arises is how Hollywood handles romantic angles. Audiences love romance, and I for one have no problem with it either. But, more often than not, the movie of a classic novel turns it into a romance, when that was not the original intent at all.
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As you may have noticed, I love lists. So, let me present to you my list of movies that are not supposed to be romances.
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Hollywood LiteraturePride and PrejudiceThis classic novel by Jane Austen has had a good handful of big and little screen translations, most recently the 2006 film by acclaimed director Joe Wright. And I know that most fans of the films, and likely even the book, will see this and panic. How can it not be a romance? You may ask. The relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy is merely a device in the story that pushes the real plot forward. Pride and Prejudice is about money and one’s position in society. Lizzie isn’t really interested in Darcy until she sees the evidence of his wealth when she visits his palatial mansion. The novel also serves as a warning against folly, and Austen uses Lydia’s run-away-marriage as an example of that. So, no; it is most definitely not a romance. But I’ll tell you one thing; I sure don’t mind the Hollywood versions. I get swept away just as much as the next girl.
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Hollywood LiteratureEast of Eden: The classic film was one of James Dean’s breakout roles. This movie is constantly a thorn in my side, especially since the original Steinbeck novel is my all-time favorite. The movie, literally, starts in the last one hundred pages of the book. It skips all of the important backstory. It takes out every important feature of the story. A remake is, reportedly, underway and the press release stated that, “East of Eden is the story of two brothers’ love for one girl.” I immediately threw my computer across the room upon reading it. Eden is about father-son relationships, sins of the father being passed along, and whether or not you can inherit evil tendencies. The girl of the story, Abra, is purely incidental and not an important feature. The book literally opens during the childhood of Adam, the father of twin boys Cal and Aron, so that you can better understand how the characters turn out to be. Hollywood, apparently, would rather just start up when everyone is already grown-up and skip over all of the depth.
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Hollywood LiteratureAnna Karenina: The film by Joe Wright is set to be released his fall and the trailer is simply stunning. The tagline on the posters and featured in the trailer is “An Epic Tale of Love” and I can’t help but feel that is grossly inaccurate. Anna Karenina is about social reform, family life, farming, forgiveness, death, and adultery. Adultery does not necessarily mean love, and it is a bit of a shame that it is being treated as such in this film when that was not the original intent. However, I shall wait to actually see the movie before I judge that. And regardless, audiences need romance. It’s the simplest theme to understand, and anything else often goes over heads.
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Hollywood LiteratureThe Great Gatsby: Another upcoming film, starring DiCaprio and Mulligan, and it certainly looks interesting. Although, if the trailer is any hint, it looks like they focus an awful lot on Gatsby’s relationship with Daisy, and probably more than they should. Gatsby is about the decline of the American dream, and the shallowness and unhappiness of the upper class. It is also about Gatsby and the mystery surrounding the man.

Hollywood LiteratureWuthering Heights: Ever since Stephenie Meyer mentioned that this was Bella and Edward’s favorite book Twilight fan-girls have been gaga over this “great romance” that isn’t a romance at all. Now, with the sudden attention and success by silly girls who don’t understand what they are reading, a new film version is underway. Wuthering Heights is not a romance, but it is about destructive and unchanging love and the precariousness of social class. Wuthering Heights could even be called a ghost story.
To be honest, I’m concerned when audiences go crazy over so-called-romances, especially ones that are unhealthy. It makes me wonder what their own love lives are like, especially when they aren’t discerning enough to notice that Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship isn’t romantic, but destructive and almost abusive. Turning these books into romantic films is dumbing down the original and almost like talking-down to the audience. But, with teenagers and sometimes even grown women, believing Edward Cullen to be the perfect man, what else could you expect?
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