Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The main advantage that Dennis Lehane's 2003 neo-Gothic thriller has over the 2010 film adaptation is the way the novel entrenches readers in the unreliable viewpoint of protagonist Teddy Daniels. We don't watch Teddy's predicament unfold onscreen; we experience it with him for nearly 400 pages. We get right inside his tormented head, as exemplified by the following passage detailing the onset of a migraine headache: "He rubbed his right eye, hoping against all evidence, but it did no good, and then he felt it along the left side of his head--a canyon filled with lava cut through the skull just below the part in his hair. He thought it was Rachel's screams in there, the furious noise, but it was more than that, and the pain erupted like a dozen dagger points pushed slowly into his cranium, and he winced and raised his fingers to his temple."
On the other hand, Martin Scorsese's film contains plenty of arresting imagery that outstrips even Lehane's vivid prose: the towering cliffs on Shutter Island, the metallic labyrinth inside Ward C, the snowing ash in the apartment and Dolores' disintegration in Teddy's arms (during one of Teddy's nightmare visions).
The book goes into much more detail concerning the relationship between Teddy and Dolores, accounting for how they first met and fell in love, how they interacted as a married couple and struggled together. This more fully developed backstory makes the climactic revelation (of Teddy's shooting of Dolores) especially heart-breaking.
The casting for the film is brilliant (and I'm not even talking about Leonardo DiCaprio's performance--arguably the best of his career). Scorsese's crop of actors perfectly embody Lehane's characters: Elias Koteas as the disfigured firebug Andrew Laeddis; Patricia Clarkson as haggard fugitive Rachel Solando; Ted Levine as the warden, whose menace beams right from his eyes. And Ben Kingsley--he of the haunting gaze and stoic face--was made for the role of the enigmatic Dr. Cawley.
The film is admirably faithful to the novel (which presents one of the most deftly executed plot twists in the history of storytelling). There is one last turn of the screw, though, that the film version does offer. I refer to DiCaprio's final line of dialogue, which suggests that "Teddy" has not simply reverted to self-delusion once again. A certain sense of redemption thus counters the tragic note on which the film concludes (with DiCaprio's character destined for a transorbital lobotomy).
So what's my final score for this edition of Book vs. Film? It's been said that a tie is like kissing your sister, but in this case such a
sibling would be a supermodel with a wonderful personality. Both Lehane and Scorsese have gifted us with amazing work that only grows more impressive upon second reading/viewing. Accordingly, I distribute the ten total points equally on the figurative scales:
Book: 5 --- Film: 5