Cinematic adaptation of books happens all the time. It reminds us that literature is in fact a major part of pop culture. But when it comes to inspiring book-lovers, for example, or expressing the complex process of writing, it’s the films about books or writers that are most effective. Let’s reminisce on some fantastic works of cinema every book buff should see.
Thriller & Horror
The Ninth Gate (1999)
Another bookish adaptation, courtesy of Roman Polanski and starring Johnny Depp. This film made its own alterations to the literary plot that inspired it, namely The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte. But the end result is no less entrancing. We follow the journey of a book dealer on the hunt for answers regarding three Satanic books. Puzzles and cults is the least he encounters along the way.
The Shining (1980)
Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, this succeeded by Doctor Sleep in 2014, has its writer protagonist iconically portrayed by Jack Nicholson. Despite the film’s slight deviations from the book, in terms of plot and character development, The Shining is considered one of the scariest productions of all time. It could be said to represent an extreme case of writer’s block mixed in with a heavy dosage of paranormal, suspense, and gore.
A Norwegian production of widespread critical acclaim, including an Academy Award nomination for Best International Feature Film and the Toronto International Film Festival Discovery Award for its director, Joachim Trier. The plot follows two young writers trying to get published at the same time. One manuscript finds huge success. The other doesn’t. And each author’s journey unfolds in emotional and surprising ways.
Finding Forrester (2000)
Sean Connery plays a recluse author who takes a promising young writer, portrayed by Rob Brown, under his wing on the condition that their association is kept secret. While learning and misbehaving, the boy, Jamal, learns this mysterious man’s story, but also the power of words and friendship. A heartwarming production among films about books, it interweaves writing, vulnerability, integrity and so much more into its plot.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
‘O Captain! My Captain!’ Robin Williams stars in this celebration of individuality alongside the likes of Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard. He plays an English teacher at Welton Academy, an all-male prep school, where he encourages his students to ‘seize the day’, whether in poetry, theatre, or any other passionate pursuit. The clash with authority, as well as societal and familial expectations, is inevitable, emotional, and oh so timeless.
Young Adult (2011)
A divorced and alcoholic ghost writer, Charlize Theron, trying to complete the final book of an YA series returns to her hometown in a manic bid to win back her high school sweetheart, Patrick Wilson. But, of course, her plan goes spectacularly wrong. Growing up and finding closure are the main themes of this comedy paired with the anxiety of writer’s block, not to mention unpredictable life as a whole.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Perhaps the most cleverly surreal reflection of authorship. Will Ferrell plays an I.R.S. auditor living to the precision of his wristwatch. One day he starts hearing a woman’s voice – Emma Thompson – narrating his life and actions, which she states will lead to his death. The plot thickens in intellectual and heartwarming ways as he tries to figure out what’s going on. This film is more about books’ impact on people, whether it’s the reader, author or character.
A socially and emotionally troubled screenwriter, Nicolas Cage, tries to adapt a book, The Orchid Thief, into a screenplay, but ends up with severe writer’s block. The scenario so far is based on reality. A very real screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, had the same problem adapting Susan Orlean’s very real non-fiction novel. The ordeal resulted in them writing the screenplay for Adaptation, which fictionally expanded their story with thrills, humour and deep feels.
Wonder Boys (2000)
Michael Douglas, Toby Maguire, Robert Downey Jr. and Frances McDormand lead the cast of this lively film. It follows the story of an author and university professor trying to write a successful second book, while his problematic student gets him in all sorts of trouble. The tangle gets messier and more amusing, all revolving around the difficulties of writing, publishing and making human connections.
Films about books can involve physical texts, writing, publishing or anything in between. And what do literary plots achieve? Clearly, a lot that can benefit three key genres of the film industry. Complex characters. Intriguing concepts. Emotional stimulation. Alternative and unique scenarios. Mystery. Suspense. Film and literature really is a winning combination.
What’s your favourite bookish film? Tell us all about it.
And continue reading about the benefits of literature on Book Breath!