Books made into recent feature films

September 9, 2014

The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (Scribner, 2010) was adapted by DreamWorks Pictures and released on August 8. The title refers to the distance that separates two restaurants and the people who live and work in them.

 

Hassan Haji (Manish Dayal in the film) is born in the slums of Bombay and taken to Europe by his father (Om Puri) after the death of his mother (Juhi Chawla). In France, they open an ethnic restaurant, Maison Mumbai, with Hassan as the chef.

 

Across the street, however, is an elegant French restaurant, run by the widow Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). What starts off as culinary cold war ends in Hassan’s discovery of talents he didn’t know he had.

 

I loved the movie and was eager to read the book, looking forward to discovering elements the movie left out, but The Hundred Foot Journey is one of those rare cases where the movie is better than the book. Unlike the short journey of a hundred feet, the book takes its time getting to the point.  

 

The idea is to give the reader an understanding of Hassan and set up events that serve as a catalyst for the rest of the novel. The result is a disjointed ramble that gives far too much attention to minutiae.

 

While the movie captures important moments in Hassan’s life, the book goes into great detail about things that seem significant at the time, but are then never mentioned again.

 

One exception is a day Hassan spends with his mother, dining in an upscale French restaurant. Morais’ attention to detail establishes Hassan’s closeness with his mother and gives the reader sympathy when his mother dies, profoundly impacting his subsequent relationships with women.

 

Otherwise, trying to get through The Hundred Foot Journey left me frustrated, trying to keep track of the details and understand their relevance to the story.

★ ★

 

 

The Giver by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, 1993) was adapted by Walden Media and released on August 15.

 

The young adult story is set in an unspecified future, in which society has created a form of utopia called “The Community.” The Elders keep everything and everyone under tight control. Sameness is the ideal; uniqueness is shameful.

 

Each December, The Community holds a ceremony advancing children to the next age. When they turn 12, they are assigned a role and the remainder of their education trains them for it. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites in the film) is assigned the role of Receiver of Memory. He trains with the last Receiver (Jeff Bridges), now the Giver, and receives the Giver’s memories.  

 

Jonas is exempted from many community rules, such as sharing his dreams or avoiding rudeness, but he is forbidden from requesting any medication, which allows him to experience emotion for the first time and to see colors where other members of The Community can see only monochrome.

★ ★ ★ ★

 

While The Hundred Foot Journey did an excellent job presenting the important elements of the book, The Giver took considerable liberties. Jonas’ age is changed from 12 to 16. A love triangle is added, and the role of the Elders takes on a sinister overtone.  

 

The book implies The Community was created by the Elders with good intention, a belief that if everyone were the same there would be nothing to create conflict. In the film, the focus shifts to the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), whose motives are less clear.

 

I enjoyed both the film and the book, but the book spoke to me more. Where the film has scenes that appear thrown in just for the sake of creating an action element, the book focused more on the subtleties of being unique in a society that reveres conformity.  

 

In addition, the film made a few changes I did not understand, such as Jonas’ birth order. In the book, he is number 19 in his birth year; in the movie, he is number 56. The only reason I could discern for this was an effort to create a more suspenseful scene.  

 

In the book, Lowry places special emphasis on the fact that Jonas, the Giver, and a select few others have “funny eyes” (presumably blue, though this is never stated outright). In the movie, eye color is changed to a birthmark on the inside of the wrist. The eye color made more sense, in that it is an instantly visible characteristic.

 

In both stories, the protagonists are caught between societal expectations and personal growth—Jonas struggles with deep emotion against the traditions of his society; Hassan with deep emotion in light of his mother’s death, his father’s emotional shutdown, and the traditions of his society. Both experience long personal journeys that force them away from the comfort of their communities.

 

For those interested in seeing the film adaptation of The Giver, read the book first. For those interested in The Hundred Foot Journey, I highly recommend the film adaptation, but skip the book.

 

Kris Milstead is a nerd insomniac. When she is not surfing the Internet or watching Doctor Who, she can probably be found reading and working on her next book review. You can follow her on Twitter at medelle71 or email her at tardis_lord@yahoo.com.

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