Monday, October 28, 2013

Movie Monday: A Passage to India

A Passage to India
On the second and fourth Monday of every month, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize that few people have the time or desire to read the amount that I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good movie almost as much as a good book.

I curled up with a blanket and the 1984 adaptation of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India a few weeks back when Kevin was out of town. Clocking in at nearly three hours in length, I figured this was a choice best enjoyed alone.  My sweet husband does not gravitate toward lengthy, old movies based on classic literature.

I firmly believe that film adaptations should always be preceding by the viewer reading the original work. Rarely does a movie do a better job explaining the nuances of the plot than the written text.  Typically, a book enhances the movie, not the other way around. The only exception I have previously experienced to that rule is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

You may recall that, after reading A Passage to India, I was not overly impressed with Forster's classic.  Not bad, but not great. For only the second time in my life, I found that the movie version clarified the book for me and made me appreciate the story in a much deeper way.

I was struck with a few immediate impressions as the film began.  First, I quickly fell in love with the score. I love film scores and this was no exception. While I am not entirely sure it fit the movie all that well, I quite enjoyed the music. You can listen for yourself while you read the rest of this post. I've provided a YouTube version right here to make it especially easy. You're welcome.

Another immediate pleasure was seeing a familiar name pop up in the opening credits. I rarely recognize actors from this era. After all, I was a late 80s baby. When I see a name that has remained recognizable over the years, I find myself intrigued. Such was the case when I realized Alex Guinness played Godbole. Now, should they have had a white guy playing an Indian? Probably not. But this was the 80s.

I loved the portrayal of the mosque scene. For me, that was such a pivotal, important scene in the book and I really thought David Lean, the director, nailed it. From that point on, he had my confidence.

My only negative gut reaction came from the cast's pronunciation of Adela. Perhaps its my American roots, but I think of the name said uh-DELL-uh. They said ADD-ell-uh. Not a big deal, really. It just threw me off.

Really, those observations represent surface details. The meat of the movie is where my real appreciation materialized. I thought Lean's decision to leave the did-he-or-didn't-he mystery in the film was spot on. Neither the book nor the movie definitively says either way, although we can all certainly hope and believe that Dr. Aziz is innocent.

Lean included a great moment right at the end of the trial. The monsoon season begins just as the trial ends and the charges are, so to speak, washed away. The imagery there is fantastic, particularly on screen.

The biggest difference for me, however, came in the tone of the movie. The whole plot is racial charged, no doubt. The subtleties of the racial issues were much clearer when seen on the screen. It was much easier to see emotion and cultural expectation than it was on the page.

Even the end had a different feel to me. I felt the book ended a bit hopelessly, as though the conclusion eliminated any change of inter-racial friendship. The movie, though, seemed much more positive in its ending. Again, I think this is due to the visualization of the emotional subtleties.

As we head into the long winter months, I would definitely recommend blocking out an blustery afternoon or chilly evening to watch this movie. I don't want to offer it in place of the book. You should always, always read the book. But if you really are looking to experience the plot without the time commitment needed for the written work, check out the film.

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