A writer who creates an exact image or mood or storyline makes it both harder and easier for adaptation. It is easier in the sense that there is something precise and tangible to work with. However, due to the exactness of this created world, one also runs the risk of not capturing it precisely and to the degree that the author did. There is more to risk when something is that exact. However, because Jodi Picoult does such a great job at really sculpting this world, she does provide the adapter with a gripping point, something to hold onto and work with.
Seger talks about exploring the theme when it comes to adaptation. This seems highly relevant when it comes to a discussion on exactitude, because part of being exact, is being able to create a precise theme. Seger talks about how novels and plays tend to be more theme-oriented than films. Films tend to be more story oriented. Translating the theme from one medium to another is not always an easy matter. However, Seger says that “one central theme will come to the forefront” (139). She also writes that “all of the great novels, however, and most of the good ones, are not just telling a story but are pursuing an idea” (14). The theme is just as important as the plot, if not more important.
When it comes to finding the theme, Seger mentions five things one must look for:
1. Narration of the writer
2. The dialogue
3. Story choices that the writer has made
4. Choices that the character makes
5. Images used in description that can be translated into cinematic images
Therefore, when it came to pondering how I might adapt the exact theme present in My Sister’s Keeper, I focused on those issues. It is interesting to note that these five things mentioned above all imply a sort of exactness. Here is this idea of trying to mimic a sort of preciseness fostered by the writer. It is about pinpointing exactly what is needed to convey these same ideas via images. What themes are most integral to the storyline? What exactly must be included to capture this, and what, maybe, can be left out of the adaptation?
For me, it came down to the mood that Picoult captured in this novel. I felt like the mood was highly tied to the theme. Her novel is very much one giant question. The story is a novel about how easy it is for a world to shatter, how confusing the aftermath can be, how certain choices led to particular outcomes, but how fuzzy life can appear. The theme has to do with trying to contain something that is, by definition, difficult to explain or define or understand. Kate has cancer. There is no reason why she got cancer. It does not make sense. However, Anna was born to save Kate. There was a precise purpose here. But, at some point, this purpose becomes more gray, and it is challenged. What once seemed completely black and white, right or wrong, is no longer as easy to define. The exact central theme here has to do with morality.Therefore, I tried to capture this when it came to adapting this work.
Seger writes: “Novels and films express themselves in different ways. Fiction uses words to tell a story, describe character, and build ideas. Films use image and action” (27). Here comes the trouble with adapting: how do we take a complicated text, where words can help clarify thematic issues, plot devices, character traits, and translate that solely into images? How can we take a text that is quick through its theme, its narration, its use of point of view, and put that into a visual display?
This is when I thought back to Calvino – how is this story quick? How does the storyline lend to quickness? And then it hit me. The storyline is about how quick our innocence bubble is popped. It is about accepting reality, coping with change, living with consequences, learning that every action has a reaction. Every word we speak, every word we don’t speak – people notice.
Seger talks about the journey. If we are viewing this story with regards to how quickly people lose their innocence, then the journey is one of discovering reality. The goal, then, is learning to accept it. There is a fluidity to Picoult’s book, despite the fragmentation of points of view. There is a propelling movement through this fluidity – a sort of pulse. And this motion guides us on the journey – giving us details that build upon details, speeding us forward.
Every character experiences the moment when they realize life is not as stable as they once believed. At one point, Kate and Anna’s mother says: “Driving home, I am struck by the sudden thought that the world is inflatable – trees and grass and houses ready to collapse with the single prick of a pin” (Picoult 34). Here is her epiphany. Life can be popped and can collapse quickly.
Another issue to identify when it comes to adaptation, is figuring out the catalyst and knowing the conflict. In this case, the catalyst is Kate. She has cancer, and because of this, her innocence, and the innocence of those around her, is taken. The conflict – how to cope with this news. A catalyst is the essence of quickness – it speeds up a reaction. Kate causes everyone to lose their innocence quicker than they probably would have. She speeds up the process of facing reality.
And finally, another layer of quickness present in this book, that is a catalyst for reality, is the idea of fire. Before each section opens up, there is a quote about fire. It opens up the chapter – it is literally the catalyst for each chapter. It ignites each story. To add a couple more layers to this: the dad is a fireman. The son starts fires to gain attention. The father is fascinated with stars, which are, in many ways, gaseous fires in the sky. Anna is named after a star. And like a star, she is quick – she flickers in and out of existence. At one point, the dad says the following: “A fire can’t burn forever. Eventually, it consumes itself” (Picoult 37). Fires are quick. They can be started quick. They can be stopped relatively fast. The effects, though, are long lasting.
Eventually time will run out – eventually it will be consumed.