Film Adaptation of The Lover

I’ve been obsessed with reading for as long as I can remember.

When I was 9, I devoured all four available Harry Potter books in a week. On one occasion, I left my book in my desk at school, and was distraught as soon I realized it. I begged my Dad to drive me back to school where I persuaded a janitor to open my classroom for me so I could retrieve my literary treasure. I was even convinced that on my 11th birthday an Owl would come flying through my window with a letter that would confirm my destiny of becoming a witch and attending Hogwarts. I was devastated when I realized I was a muggle. I’m convinced the wizarding world does exist under wraps. It’s all a huge conspiracy that our government works daily to cover-up. (Okay, okay… so I don’t believe that anymore.)

I’m a little bit of a nerd.

J.R.R Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” was my favorite book when I was ten. Bilbo Baggins fascinated me and Gandalf was always just so insightful. “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” motivated me to make up secret languages with my best friends in middle school. I had hoped my friendships would last the test of time—like Bridget, Lena, Tibby and Carmen’s did. I even admit to reading “Twilight.” Judge me.

Name a book, I’ve probably read it.

The Hunger Games.” “Romeo and Juliet.” “The Chronicles of Narnia.” “Fahrenheit 451.” “The Scarlet Letter.” “Of Mice and Men.”  “Charlotte’s Web.” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” “Holes.” “Speak.” The list goes on.

Adding to my collection more recently is “The Lover” by Marguerite Duras.

All these books previously mentioned have since been turned into films. (The Hobbit comes out this December. I am stoked!) It’s a pretty common occurrence. It seems that producers and directors run out of ideas, so they turn to books. Or simply, that books are able to capture the world in a unique light that only well written stories can elucidate. These stories are beautifully presented. Directors feel that film adaptations work because they are translating their personal interpretation into a visual artistic piece. A book-turned-film is ultimately a subjective interpretation of a beautifully written novel.

Jean-Jacques Annaud—director of the film, The Lover—attempted to do just that.

After reading the novel, I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the classroom to watch the film–adaptation. Maybe because I’m a 20-year-old female… But I wasn’t embarrassed reading the novel to myself at all. I didn’t think the sex was graphically described—there was so much self-reflection interwoven within the book as well.  The past recollections and present realizations are what stood out most to me. I think that’s why I was so shocked when I sat watching the film.

Jean-Jacques Annaud was obviously more intrigued by the sex.

The film was so heavily exploited sexually that it seriously overwhelmed me. I think I’m honestly just not mature enough to watch such graphic scenes in a classroom setting. (Yes, go ahead and laugh at me.) There are just so many other aspects of “The Lover,” besides the sex, that make it such a successful book. (Her personal reflection on her inadequacy, desire for love, guilt from colonialism, sadness about her familial situation…) I mean, Playboy Magazine is one of the critiques included in The Lover’s film trailer. I think that pretty much validates the tremendous sex.

Isn’t it just charming?

The film was depicted in a linear fashion with voice-over narration from an older woman reflecting on these events from her past whereas the novel is written in a stream of consciousness style. I don’t think there was any other way the film could have been made without completely confusing the audience. Her growing maturity and personal identity development was obviously more clearly presented in the novel, but otherwise, the themes of the film could be realized if one looked beyond the sex and searched for them. The film purposely tries to appeal to both men and females by adding the graphic relationship and the emotional development. I think certain people could read the book though and be overwhelmed by the movie (Like me).

Despite this, I did appreciate the non-sexual scenes adapted from the book into the film. I thought they were done extremely well. The scene where the young Duras fights with her brother at the dinner table, the family dinner with the China Man at the restaurant and the last scene where she completely breaks down all resonated deeply with me.

The cast consisted of incredibly attractive people with outrageous bodies whereas Duras described the “little white whore” as plain and the “China man” as feminine. Annaud clearly wanted to ensure the film would be appealing.

I do recommend reading the book before you watch the film though. I believe the film is an accessory and can’t necessarily stand on its own. It doesn’t do the book justice. There are other books-turned-films like “Memoirs of a Geisha” where I thoroughly enjoyed both the novel and the film separately and collectively. Directors who realize that films are a visual medium that simply cannot encompass every last detail of a novel accomplish these successful films.

People must ultimately realize that a novel and a film are completely and utterly different. If you demand an exact replica, you are doomed for disappointment. (Been there, done that!) I approach novel-films with realistic expectations, and am rarely disappointed. My relationship with a film does not compare whatsoever to my relationship with a book. I expect less out of the film. My favorite books have supported me through childhood woes of happiness and heartache. I have grown attached to them.  They were my private sanctuaries and mediums of escape. Even though I am a Film Studies minor, films are less personal for me. I watch them for entertainment, and I admire them for their visual and artistic representations.

Annaud definitely made sure the sex was both visual and artistic in The Lover. I could go as far to say that I didn’t completely hate the film. It wasn’t bad by any means. In fact, the film was intriguing. I probably wouldn’t watch it ever again—but that’s because of my blatant sexual immaturity.

Books are special. Films based on books are rarely able to fully capture their essence.

I accept film adaptations for what they are. And I accept The Lover for all that it is.

I’ll definitely remember it.

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