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Burg: Stop comparing the movie to the book

Madeline Burg, Columnist

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I had so been hoping that “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” would actually open on Thanksgiving weekend in a burst of delicious food-based irony. But I think the holiday atmosphere extends backward to at least a week before the festivities, so the release of “Mockingjay – Part 1″ on Friday still makes me cackle. The third installment of the smash hit young adult novel series raked in $55 million its first day, which is less than its two predecessors but by no means a paltry sum. The hype has reached critical mass in an age where adaptations of young adult fiction are the gold standard for moneymakers in the film industry. “Mockingjay” is just the latest in an already long line of movies you’ll either see ironically or completely unironically, throwing up a Panem salute as the credits roll (please don’t actually do this).

Everything’s an adaptation these days and personally I don’t mind it. “The Theory of Everything” is based on Jane Hawking’s memoir “Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen;” Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice” are both getting released as movies in the coming weeks, and “The Hobbit” movies just keep coming. It’s not just teen fiction getting this treatment either: This summer saw Jeff Bridges as “The Giver” and Tom Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow,” an adaptation of a Japanese manga novel. Look up any movie and there’s a good chance it’s based on some other work in another medium.

But it has only been in the last decade and a half, since the rise of the young adult adaptation, that the super fun practice of whining about book to movie adaptation become a true American pastime. Enjoyable for young and old alike, the griping brings friends and families together in a mutual hatred of the film executives who dare sully the name of Harry Potter by screwing with plot, depiction of characters and everything else fangirls and boys hold dear. If it’s not your “Hunger Games,” it’s nobody’s “Hunger Games.” And god help director Francis Lawrence and the entire cast if they fail to live up to every individual viewer’s expectations, which are shaped by personal interactions with the source material.

This makes no sense, and it also cracks me up, inducing uncontrollable full-body laughter convulsions that mask a bone-deep despair of society and the universe. How would it ever be possible to create a movie version of a beloved book that A, incorporates every detail and minuscule plot turn on each of the three hundred or more pages of said beloved book, and B, jives with every single person’s own nuanced perceptions developed over the course of reading the book? The experience of reading — or consuming most other forms of art and culture — is half what the author brings to the work and half what you personally bring to the work through reading it with your very own brain and self. My experience of Harry Potter is different from yours, even though we both like it, because of the fact that I am me and you are you.

Thus when a person who also happens to be a film director and whose name is David Fincher reads “Gone Girl”, he will have a different experience doing so than I had; when he decides to make a movie of it he will bring that personal experience to the screen, and what I paid $8.75 to see will be “Gone Girl” through David Fincher’s eyes, not through mine. Amidst publicity for the movie, rumors that Fincher had entirely changed the ending of the book for his adaptation enraged dedicated readers. While this turned out to be untrue, the fervor that it had engendered shocked and amused me. Go make your own movie if it bothers you so much.

Indulge the insufferable English major a momentary literary digression: I’ve seen more than one screen adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” and I maintain the unpopular opinion that Joe Wright’s 2005 version starring Keira Knightley is the best one. It excises several minor characters and plot threads in favor of sweeping panoramas with disgustingly gorgeous English country houses — I’m all about glossy cinematography — but I honestly think that the actors’ characterizations and the flow of the slightly truncated storylines amount to a stellar film. Self-proclaimed die-hard fans of Jane Austen’s book would see me clapped in irons but they’re nothing compared to John Green fangirls.

So this splendid Thanksgiving holiday, go see “Mockingjay Part 1” with an open mind. If you want to complain that Sam Claflin isn’t your Finnick Odair, please do it out of my earshot. Adaptations aren’t going away, and I for one am stoked to see how other individuals interpret books that I love.

Madeline Burg is a Weinberg senior. She can be reached at madelineburg2015@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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