Although literature will always be my first and foremost love, I have recently become much more open minded about the capabilities of art and sought out an understanding and appreciation of the different modes art can express itself through. For most of my life, I had treated film as purely entertainment, visual art just did not receive a fair share of my attention, and I never really found the kind of music that spoke to me until later in my life. I have since found music, dipped my toe into the world of visual art, and fallen wholeheartedly into the rabbit hole of film studies.
As I’ve explored these different forms, they’ve all individually justified their own existence to me. I truly believe that the power a specific brushstroke’s size and tone and emotion conveys throughout a painting cannot be replicated in a single film still, just like how a powerful scene in a film that is constructed almost entirely without dialogue cannot translate itself onto the pages of a book or into a sheet of music, nor can a passage from the pages of Moby Dick, in all its beautiful language and complex syntactical construction, be put to the screen. Although there is plenty of overlap between all of these modes, they also stake out unique justification for existence and original expression that no other mode can match.
The conversation about adaptations between these modes, especially between the two that matter most to me, literature and film, has always been fascinating to me. Once upon a time, I used to agree that “the book is always better than the movie,” but now I see that its simply not the case. There are plenty of films that far exceed their print source material, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Thin Red Line, Starship Troopers, The Birds, and Dr. Strangelove, to name just a few. But for every successful adaptation, there are tons of bombs as well. I think that, by examining the difference between these two modes, we see how they both achieve different technical means and strategies of expression to reach the same truths.
Following the letter of the law when it comes to adaptation is all but guaranteeing the failure of your transfer; it’s akin to literally translating text from Hebrew into Japanese and then into German. Literal translation is not the purpose. What makes a successful translation, a successful adaptation, is successfully transmitting the heart of a work, the truth that it is pointing to, the emotions it is expressing, into a whole new form that can be understood in a new, different way. The truth of the art is more important than the facts. Once we understand that, we can dig through all of our different modes, be it literature, film, music, or visual, and attempt to find their individual truths and, in the cases of overlap, truly examine how each art form approaches this truth from a different direction. There is no doubt in my mind that no artistic mode displaces another; every mode of expression has its place, and to appreciate that is to truly appreciate the boundless whole of what art, and humanity, can create.
Images courtesy of