the film/book disconnect: My Sister’s Keeper

I believe I have said this before, but I can’t find it so I’ll repeat myself:

If you have a novel and you sell the film rights, you have to divorce yourself from the story. Because it isn’t your story anymore, and what’s up there on the screen has very little to do with you. Unless you’re John Irving and you can negotiate a role for yourself in writing the screenplay and the production.

If there’s a novel you adore and you hear that the film rights have been sold, then you have two choices (1) never see the film; (2) see the film and forget the book. Don’t compare the two. The film might be quite good, on its own.

There are some novels which have translated to film very well: The Godfather, Angels and Insects, Brokeback Mountain, Lonesome Dove, the Shawshank Redemption, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman are some examples.  More often people are disappointed or even outraged by the changes to the story. I personally could not stop laughing all through the tv movie version of The Stand, I found it that bad.   And then there’s the ultimate example of wrong done to a good book: Beloved.

Jodi Picoult’s novels either work for me in a very big way, or not at all. I feel the same way about Anne Tyler, so she’s in good company. I liked My Sister’s Keeper a lot, and now the movie is out there. And I’m not going to see it (option one above), for a very specific reason.

The filmmaker reinterprets the story, of course.  A huge novel cannot be put on film unless the whole thing is taken apart and condensed. It is possible to do this and still keep some sense of the theme of the novel.  The French Lieutenant’s Woman (novel) has two endings, one very dark, the other happier. The filmmaker handled that by assigning one of those endings to the current-day actors who are making the movie (this is a movie about making a movie of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, you see) and the other to the fictional Victorian characters. I was very impressed. I still am, when I rewatch it.

But imagine these films with new endings:

Gone with the Wind

Scarlett: But where will I go? What will I do?

Rhett: Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. Come here, sweetums. Let me show you what to do, and where to do it.

Batty old Actress in Sunset Boulevard

All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.
Young man, send everybody away and help me look for my marbles. I lost them just about here.

Tale of Two Cities

“It’s a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It’s a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”

Ain’t this a kick in the head.

Wizard of Oz

“Oh, but anyway, Toto, we’re home! Home! And this is my room – and you’re all here! And I’m not gonna leave here ever, ever again because I love you all! – And oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.”

Auntie Em, I don’t think those were Chanterelle mushrooms after all.


“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Louis, I’ve missed you so much. Come sit next to me.


At the end of the novel My Sister’s Keeper there is a twist that took me by surprise. It was a gutsy thing for Picoult  to do, but it did work. The filmmaker was not as courageous. In the movie, that unusual, challenging ending has been dumped and its very opposite, a cliché as big as the movie screen itself, was substituted.

What I am wondering is this: when the DVD comes out, will it have the original ending as an alternate? Because that, I would watch.

12 Replies to “the film/book disconnect: My Sister’s Keeper”

  1. I loved my sister’s keeper too. I didn’t like the ending, but it did fit with the rest of the story. I was appalled when I heard it had been changed for the movie. I mean, tweaking a few things here and there to facilitate the move from page to screen might be acceptable, but changing the whole direction of the story? That’s just wrong!
    The thing with this particular story though, is that the ending is so caught up with the whole premis of the story, and to me, seems so important to the story, that to change it seems to detract from everything else.

    So many times I have been disappointed by the movie version of a wonderful book, and it looks like this time will be no different. I saw Gone with the Wind before reading the book, so that one was ok for me. The sequel, “Scarlett,” was a good read (as opposed to a GREAT read, which the original was) but the filmed version was a big disappointment to me. Maybe it was because it was made as a tv series, or maybe I’d have hated it on the big screen too, I don’t know.
    I’ll still go to see My Sister’s Keeper though – curiosity will drive me there.

    I loved your examples of changing movie last lines up above…especially the “Wizard of Oz” one.

  2. Am I the only one who loved the ending of the book?? I mean, I prefer happy endings, but I thought the ending was perfectly heart breaking. Maybe I’ll rent the movie, maybe not. To be honest, I can’t see Cameron Diaz as Sara. And then Joan Cusack as the judge? Hmm.

    1. Rachel — I didn’t dislike the ending. It made sense, in the overall flow of the story. But it was a bit of a shock. That’s not something most authors would do.

    2. I agree, Rachel – I can’t see Cameron Diaz in that role at all. Her previous roles don’t suggest the sort of depth required to play such a pinnacle character in the movie.

      I have no plans to see the movie due to the change in ending, but I would have struggled with the casting at any rate.

  3. I hated the ending in the book. It was my first Picoult ending, so I didn’t know to expect it, and it felt like a total cop-out; it reminded me of a story I wrote in tenth grade that was supposed to be about a friendship between a girl and a boy with AIDS that ended with his sad long death, but I realized ten pages in that it was going to be way too long for the assignment so I killed him in a car accident and called it a surprise ending. My teacher called it a contrived easy-out, and he was right. The FIRST shock at the end of My Sister’s Keeper, I could take and even embrace. The second ending, so to speak, was what felt like a ripoff to me. And it was a shame, because I loved the rest of the book.

    I had no desire to see the movie, and even less now that i know how much the story was altered, so I’m going to go look around on the Internet and find a spoiler to see what they did do the ending, because now you’ve got my curiosity up.

    I am with you on the two options for film adaptations, UNLESS it’s a classic made by the BBC; those usually come out pretty nicely, or did until this latest set of remakes started coming out.

  4. Did you ever see the movie version of A.S. Byatt’s novel, Possession? I thought the casting of the characters were pretty good except for Aaron Eckhart. He strikes me as too much of a beefcake to be believable as a literary scholar. Is that reverse stereotyping? Anyway, I couldn’t agree with you more about My Sister’s Keeper. I wasn’t planning on seeing the movie, but now I am curious as to how they changed the ending.

    1. Oh, I hated the film version of Possession. I think because I loved the novel so much, I couldn’t keep it out of my head. It’s such a complex and multilayered novel, and they gutted it for the movie. Of course they didn’t have any choice, but they might have done a more discerning job of it. The script really was a mess, and some of the casting was very odd.

  5. I wondered what all the fuss was about, when “Possesion” came out in theaters. I didn’t read the novel but saw the movie and was left feeling cold and as if it was missing all emotion- they must have edited it out when they did the script. I must read the book, becuase most of the women I know raved about it and I kind of copped out by just seeing the film.

  6. I am with Rachel. I absolutely hated the ending to My Sister’s Keeper. I actually threw the book at the wall when I was done with it, which considering how much I treasure my books, that is saying a lot. I thought the first twist was brilliant and really brought the book together. The second twist was completely unnecessary, unrealistic and a cop-out on the part of Picoult. I didn’t see it as a gutsy move, but instead a contrived ending with the only purpose being to shock readers. It simply did not serve the story, nor were we as readers set up for it. She might as well have had a meteor come down and wipe out planet earth. It would have been just as effective in my opinion. I tried one more of Picoult’s books and was fairly disappointed with that effort as well. I have never been able to bring myself to read her work again, which is really a shame because she had me ready go out and buy every other book she had written right up until the end of My Sister’s Keeper.

    Having said all that, I am actually curious about the movie because they have changed the ending. I am wondering if the screenwriter agreed with me and decided to “fix” it. I will probably look for a spoiler as well and if the changes sound good, I may go see it. I also am a big fan of Diaz ever since she was in In Her Shoes (which is one of the few movies I have seen where I felt it surpassed the novel, though the novel was entertaining as well. The movie however was outstanding and Diaz showed just how much depth she has as an actress.)

    1. @Diane: We’ll have to agree to disagree about My Sister’s Keeper’s ending, but I absolutely agree with you about Diaz in In Her Shoes. It was a remarkable performance, and a movie I would recommend, especially to any woman with a sister she doesn’t get alogn with.

  7. I hated the ending to My Sister’s Keeper as well. I actually thought it was emotionally manipulative and unnecessary. Having said that, I don’t agree that movies should change the endings of books. I mean, you might hate an ending to the story, but that’s the story, its just not right to change that.
    I also do agree about Cameron Diaz in In her Shoes and I really liked that film, there was more to it than I expected and when, some time later, I read the book, I liked it just as much.
    I am more inclined to read a book after I have seen a movie but sometimes will not see a movie of a book I loved. For instance, I have no desire to see “The Kite Runner” or “Running with Scissors” even though I loved both books. Also, I don’t particularly like the Harry Potter books but really like the movies (particularly as they get darker).

  8. I have a feeling that you have already discussed it, Rosina, but despite being a Jane Austen fan, I think the Frances O’Connor version of Mansfield Park did a wonderful job of adding some bits of storyline and making Fanny a more compelling character, without doing any violence to the book at all. I must admit that I thought the last Pride and Prejudice movie did a lovely job also – made everything more real and tactile and not so polished, and made Elizabeth the much younger, still maturing girl she is in the book, and Mr and Mrs Bennett slightly more sympathetic. I also like the Anthony Andrews/Jane Seymour telemovie version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, which completely subverted the suspense of the book by revealing the identity of The Scarlet Pimpernel, and introduced an extra element of romance between Marguerite and Chauvelin.

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