Monday, 17 October 2011

Let the Right One In (Novel and Film) - Art and Editing

Art is anything you can do well. Anything you can do with Quality.
- Robert M. Pirsig

You know how it is – in an awful display of preciousness, you are put off something which is linked in any way with a piece of art you value greatly for fear of disappointment.  It's that fear that keeps us away from revisiting childhood wonders in case they implode and crumble like a tissue meeting a candle flame.  This fear was part of the reason why it took me so long to get around to reading the novel which was adapted into the best Vampire film of all time.  Namely 'Let the Right OneIn'.  Of course, this goes to show how very silly I can be – surely the sire (to borrow the phrase so buffyfied in my brain) to the amazing film couldn’t be anything other than special?

Sadly, being a man of my room (as opposed to a man of the world), my language skills are limited, so when writing about this novel, I feel I can't comment too much about the language.  But rest assured, anyone reading the English translation should be happy.

The general story, for those of you unfamiliar with book or film, goes like this - A young boy lives a rather bleak life in which he is constantly bullied.  He meets a pale child of his own age.  The friendship which develops encourages the boy to value himself and fight back against the bullying.  Of course, things are never that simple...

The Pirsig quote, although apt when looking at the story and translation, was actually something which came to my mind when I was pondering the job of adaptation.  In this case, the novel was adapted into the screenplay by the original author, John Ajvide Lindqvist.  Lindqvist seems to have a natural grasp of the best way to cut down a story to make a successful film narrative.  I've not sat there with a stop watch checking, but I'm pretty certain the entire film falls neatly into the Syd Field plot paradigm.

Beyond this, however, Lindqvist has been able to revise his original story and polish a couple of flat points.  The ending, for example.  The film features a lovely bit of ring structure, whereby the actions of Eli and Oskar earlier in the film (namely communication through morse code) reoccur in the final scene.  It's a tiny thing (the setting of the scene is exactly the same as that in the book, it's just the addition of an action) but it made for a pleasing feeling of completion.  And is also tremendously touching (and, for those of you familiar with morse code) a confirmation of feelings denied us by the medium of film (i.e. we can't be certain of the thoughts and feelings which are kept internal).

Content, which in the novel gets a little extreme, is toned down into something more appropriate for cinema viewing, whilst also retaining the possibility for reading between the lines.  I don’t want to spoil the biggest ‘cut’ to the novel narrative (*cough*) which was given away to me by the Great and Powerful Nick Lowe in his Mutant Popcorn film review of the American remake (which I am yet to see and of which I am, unsurprisingly, rather wary), but the editing does not spoil the narrative one bit.  In some ways it was nice to read the novel and have the screen narrative expanded.  I am imagine that, had I come at it from the opposite direction, the removal of parts of the story would still have not felt intrusive, thanks to the ambiguity left on screen.  Ambiguity as a narrative device should be used more often.  It costs nothing other than a certain degree of faith in your viewers.

So, back to Pirsig.  Quality and art really do go hand in hand.  It is the quality that defines the art rather than the item itself.  I’d like to think that a few things I have created in my life qualify as art.  But they are all constructed from different media – the words that fuel my writing, the wood I craft into objects, the light that I collect and form into a photograph.  Lindqvist has managed to create two pieces of artwork, separate to each other, crafted from words but becoming something more.  The revision of one does not lessen the other.  

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