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.