The Well


The Well Essay, Research Paper

A written comparison of “The Well”’s adaptation into film. By Sean Kennedy

The main comparison to be drawn between the film and the book version of “The Well” is the fact that the book is able to be more free form than the film, which is much more concrete in content. This is because the novel is basically a character driven piece relying on deep character development throughout the novel with the two characters shifting in relation to each other. The film on the other hand as it is constrained by the possible length of a film (usually around 2 ? hours) stands with the characters already developed and unable to shift positions much at all.

The changes in character development become apparent when you examine the different interpretations of Katherine and Hester. In the book Kathy is very responsive toward Hester and really feels quite enamoured of Hester and treats her as if she is a close friend. As the book progresses and Katherine ages she becomes more independent this is shown by her wanting to learn to drive and her manner towards the arrival of Joanna. The catalyst for the change is the death of the person on the road, as Katherine it seems slips into madness and then finally she snaps at Hester releasing years of pent up rage towards her. The film, on the other hand, has Katherine from the beginning being much more separated and distant towards Hester. You sense an undercurrent that Katherine is only using Hester for her own ends and you only receive a very vague feeling that Katherine cares for Hester at all.

The film approaches the story in a very different way from the book. This can be partially explained by the fact that it is a film and no matter how focused a screenwriter or director is there must be parts of a novel that must be jettisoned if the film is going to be at all successful. Many of the character building scenes in the book where you find yourself re-evaluating the relationships between the characters were taken out along with some of the obscure details that figure in the book. In the flashback scene in which Hester as a child witnesses the leaving of her governess in rather extreme circumstances (a miscarriage is hinted at) we see how that event affects Hester’s personality. If the scene were included, you would have to feel that it might contribute to alienating the members of the audience that hadn’t read the book. Also the director and screenwriter have to evaluate the effectiveness of a scene and weigh up whether they can put the idea into the film without using another scene to put the idea across. A lingering shot of a Hester crying over a picture of Hester and Hilde may be enough to put forward the same thoughts as the flashback scene of the book.

Differences between the film and the book can also be explained in that it is an interpretation of a text ie what seemed to be important for one person might not have been for another and vice versa. The interpretation that is the movie was I feel a much-simplified view of the text. There are two reasons for this simplification one is that I think they were trying to make an art-house film slightly mainstream and the second is they had time constraints in the length of the movie. In order to solve these problems they stripped back many of the layers to the storyline. One of the downsides of using the film medium is the fact that it is very capital intensive; it costs lots of money to make a film and needs to make lots of money to be successful. As the films are to be made to garner as many people to see them as possible the story, which may have been deep and complex has to be changed so it can be interpreted by the most people possible.

The film however does attempt to remedy the shortcomings of the medium by the use of sound and visual effects. The use of a blue filter was a clever idea especially how the blue hue gradually got darker as the film went on and gave a third dimension to Hester and Kathy’s downward spiral. The sound in the film was good in that it reflected the character’s moods such as when Katherine is dancing to the modern music while Hester’s chamber music reflects the sombre shift whenever it was played.

The problem with books of films and films of books is that they are forced to follow the original text in terms of plot, characters and character description or risk being seen as veering away from the subject and castigated for it. Therefore it is difficult to have two identical texts; one film and one print because you are not realising the potential of the two media. The way that I feel they should make films of books is that first look through the book and find the kernel of the story that they wish to replicate. Then take it from there instead of cutting away at the script until it is just the bare bones left to be seen, as in The Well.

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