Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Book and Film Versions of My Sister's Keeper (major spoilers ahead)

Tonight, I led the last of three discussions at the Farmington Library on Jodi Picoult's novels. We ended with My Sister's Keeper, which is probably her best known novel since it was made it a major Hollywood film released last summer. I have some thoughts about the relationship between the book and the movie, but providing them means giving major spoilers about what happens in both of them. If you don't want to know what happens in either the book or the movie, stop reading now. Got it? Stop!

Wow, could an adaptation of a book into a movie ever be more different? Sure, I've seen lots of adaptations that leave out things in the book. Rarely can a film cover it all. But this has a completely different ending! I mean, different people live and die in each book, and that's pretty ridiculous.

The book does a pretty good job of delving into a pretty big gray area. Anna was conceived so that blood from her umbilicial cord could be used to combat her sister Katie's leukemia. But the procedures do not stop there. There are bone marrow transplants and all kinds of things taken from Anna for Katie. In the book, Anna is thirteen and is suing for the right to refuse to have one of her kidneys transplanted into Katie. The book follows the course of the trial. And the book does cover a variety of angles. Anna does not take this decision lightly, and everyone involved is conflicted. In the end, Anna wins her case. And as she and her lawyer drive to the hospital after the judge hands down his decision, they are in a car accident. Anna dies, and Katie gets Anna's kidney. The book ends with Katie in her 20s describing how they all have handled the years after Anna's death.

Now, a lot of us tonight felt that the ending was contrived. I admit that I didn't like it. I brought up the idea of deus ex machina and the ending feeling like a trick from God or something. Many of us were not fans of the ending. But seeing the movie changed all that for me and others.

In the movie? We never learn of the judge's decision because Katie dies in the hospital and Anna lives. The movie solely exists to make viewers cry. Small but sad scenes in the book take several minutes in the movie, and any sense of nuance is gone. Anna does not seem conflicted with her decision. Campbell, her lawyer, is just a smarmy stereotype in the movie when it's clear in the book that he has some dimensionality to him. I'm sure the book would annoy some doctors and lawyers who know more about some cases, but the movie lacks any complexity at all.

I'm curious what Jodi Picoult thinks of the film's drastic revision of her book. Maybe she just cashed the check and move on. Maybe she was upset but realized that she had no rights to the story once she released it to them. I've just never seen such a drastic revision. I enjoy a good cry at a movie, and this movie would have done it if I hadn't known the book's version. But I did know it, and the movie just pissed me off.

If you want to see a strong adaptation of a good novel, then see Precious. Push is an amazing book, and Precious is an amazing adaptation of it.

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