Missing in Translation: “Brokeback Mountain”

The original story was a short story published in The New Yorker in 1997. The story itself is short, sweet, and to the point. My hesitation about having full faith the movie would do the book justice, is that I thought it would make up random details, scenes, and plot lines to make the story into a longer form.

I was quickly proven wrong when I realized the movie just expanded on themes and ideas already in the short story. What I appreciated was the fact that nothing drastic was added or changed, but rather expanded upon. Ennis and Jack’s first physical encounter is described in a sentence or two, whereas the scene takes around ten minutes of building tension, setting the scene with them in a tent together, granted it is different than the story where they are by a fire and it happens a little more suddenly, but the same point gets across, and I would almost say is portrayed better. There are still the rushed and impersonal aspects of Ennis flipping Jack over and the hurried nature of it all, but the buildup of Jack telling Ennis to sleep in the tent, Jack trying to cuddle, and everything that follows is what makes it a little better.

The one thing that I did not appreciate is the portrayed Jack slightlydifferently. Where in the story, it only comes across as Jack pushing a little bit to live together and have a ranch together, in the story it comes up almost every time they have a weekend away together. This could be because in the story we don’t see every single encounter they have, the movie expands on these encounters, leaving room for it to expand on their feelings as well.

This is the first time that I actually didn’t like something in the written story, that I appreciated in the movie. The emotions portrayed in the short story were not very sympathetic. I understood they were struggling with who they were and their relationship, but nothing about the relationships with their wives and the struggle of trying to see each other made me feel bad in those situations. In the movie, they did a good job of incorporating the wives and children and making it much more emotional. Especially with Ennis’ daughter Alma junior. She comes around a lot more in the movie and contributes to the feeling of Ennis not being there for his family, and the struggle he has between who he is and what he wants, and who he thinks he should be. Through that struggle you can see more of what he neglects in his family relationships and his marriage that you never really see in the story. It is talked about, but it doesn’t make the reader feel anything, where the movie does.

Overall this was the most satisfactory short story/book to movie transition and I overall thought it was very good. It is the bare bones of a story that makes it what it is, and the detail that makes it real. The details that were chosen to be highlighted and stretched, made this story so real to watch and follow along with, that I might even argue it was better than the short story. When I first read the short story, I even thought about the potential it had to be a full-length novel, and I’m glad there was another medium that allowed this story to be told all over again, but in greater detail, bringing it to life.

Missing in Translation: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

While this book to movie adaptation was better than the Memoirs of a Geisha book to movie translation, there were still things left out. I think this book to movie translation did a lot to make sure the same kind of story was given, even if it had to change or cut some things along the way. At first, I was nervous they would leave a ton of important information out, because this book was also very detailed, but more of the detail was involved in explaining the financial world that the case against one of the main characters takes place, and also explaining a lot of extraneous information that didn’t really come into play besides slowly eliminating people in a family of 20+ potential suspects.

One of the major entire plot lines that was left out was Lisbeth, who is the main character, is visiting her mother. Knowing how writers, especially in the mystery genre, don’t typically write something unless it will come up at some point, it makes me wonder if this will hurt the following movies in not having that relationship established earlier, and having to make up for the explanation if the mother comes back around. However, if this movie was a standalone, I would say that it wasn’t necessary to begin with. She only visits her a handful of times and each time it is only a paragraph or a sentence.

One of the main plot lines (spoiler) is the fact that Harriet, the main character in the murder mystery surrounding the plot of the movie, alive and had run away, is also slightly altered. In the book, we have to go through the cousin Anita and a little bit of traveling before we meet Harriet again. But in the movie, we meet her in when Mikael begins all of his research, we just don’t know it yet because the audience thinks we are meeting Anita. It did not drastically change the storyline of Harriet escaping, she still got away, and Anita married someone in the movies, whereas the book has Harriet marrying someone and using her married name. In this case she just uses Anita’s entire identity, which worked well for the same kind of plot twist the book has. What mattered, subtle things Martin did like killing the cat, the pictures and him lying about where he was that day, and shooting at Mikael, were plot points that mattered and ultimately brought a bunch of seemingly random facts in line to solve the mystery.

When it comes to Lisbeth, there were a couple things that were different, that I think needed to be. First off, her original caretaker didn’t die, which became important as the story progressed because we could never really see her inner thoughts like we did in the books when the narrator talked about her. This leads to Lisbeth visiting her old caretaker and speaking to him about what’s going on with her. For example, when she is playing chess and brings up that she considers Mikael a really good friend that even he would approve of. This adds to Lisbeth’s emotions that come out at the very end. The gift that Lisbeth got for Mikael at the end was also different, which I think contributed to a specific purpose. In the book she just gets him a sign, that he might find comical, although it’s not something we really understand as a sentimental gift. The leather jacket she gets him in the movie is something that was clearly thought out as she had a picture of him wearing a similar one, showing she thought about what he would actually like. This makes it so much more apparent that she cares, when as a character she has a very reserved and standoffish demeanor. Since she isn’t going to just say how she feels, this gift was a way to show the audience where her emotions are, right before she sees Mikael and Erika going home together. This leaves a bigger impression that if she had just shown up with a gift, that we didn’t really know if she put any thought into.

Overall, it was a good representation of the book, and I definitely think it did better than Memoirs of a Geisha. The major issues were still shown, but maybe in different ways, and it did not change the overall feel and mood of the mystery and thriller that it was. This movie found ways around what other book to movie translations struggle to accomplish: changing the storyline to match the form, without losing the fundamental details that make the story what it is.


Missing in Translation: “Memoirs of a Geisha”

My name is Sabrina and I am a senior at Hofstra University. I work with ateam here at Hofstra to create our literary journal, Windmill. Being an English student, I have read a lot of books and novels, and as most people, I sometimes go and see movies that are based on books. I wanted to actually sit down and compare the book to movie translations and see how a couple of different books with different genres and themes held up against each other. For these posts, I read and watched Memoirs of a Geisha, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Brokeback Mountain.

After reading Memoirs of a Geisha,I knew going into the movie that it would have to be cut a little. The book is filled with so much detail and explanations about the culture within the text about the terms used, the cultural aspects of being a geisha, and even how that compares to how American’s view the culture, they could not possibly fit it into a movie, even though the movie is two and a half hours. The level of detail and thought that the author put in to hundreds of pages could not possible be recreated, as is the case with most movies.

To start off, there were plot lines that changed. Hatsumomo is one of the main antagonists of this book, as she is constantly making the main character, Sayuri’s, life harder, and how she ends up leaving the story is completely different. In the book she ends up being kicked out by Mother when she gets drunk and causes trouble, but in the movie, she sets a fire in the okiya, the building geisha typically live in, and leaves on her own, as we see Sayuri watching her walk away from the window. It may seem an insignificant detail, but reading the books, you end up resenting Hatsumomo so much, that it feels like justice when she is finally kicked out, and that justice is taken away in the movie. When conflict-ridden characters change from one version to the other, the writers and producers have to be careful because it is easy to change the relationship of crucial divisive characters, and that’s what happened here.

The ending also changes in the movie when World War II happens and Sayuri has no plans to become a geisha again, where in the books, she was eagerly waiting for Mother to write to her to come back. This changes the entire dynamic of the circumstances she meets with Mameha, her big sister. Mameha in the movie doesn’t seem to want to become a geisha again either, and just like Nobu convinces Sayuri, Sayuri convinces Mameha. This didn’t necessarily change the fact that they became geisha again, but it seemed wrong. In the beginning of the book and movie, it is said that they don’t become geisha because they want to, but rather they have no choice. In the books when they go back, it seems like an interesting turn in their lives because they are choosing to go back to this life when they could have possibly left and tried to make a different life. But in the movie when they are once again told what they should do, it comes across as once again they have no choices. This takes away some of the more empowering aspects of the book like them being able to control their own lives on some level as they become independent.

There were many details changed and left out, and I could go on for many more examples, like how the entire beginning of the book was basically left out, that showed Sayuri, who started out as Chiyo, was a very innocent girl from a small fishing village. In the book, this showed how innocent she was and how much of a shock it was when she is basically sold to the okiya, but in the movie some of her perspective is lost because it opens with her being taken and not a lot of explanation besides what is being implied. The one thing I appreciated about the movie was it never changed Pumpkin’s storyline, who was basically in competition with Sayuri from the time they were kids. From the small details of Pumpkin eating a treat off the sidewalk she finds, they kept Pumpkin more or less the same, picking up on how influential she was to Sayuri’s story.

While they kept important aspects, like Pumpkin’s storyline, they just left too much out for this to be a satisfying movie. I would definitely watch it as a television series that kept in all of the detail.