Friday, August 24, 2012

Adaptations: The Sweet Hereafter

It's hard to write a review for the film and the film alone, for if you've read the brilliant novel they really mold into one amazing experience. Both the novel and the film add so many layers and compliment one another so well that I'm almost forced to advise everyone who has seen this film to read the novel and visa-versa. It's only in that way that you'll get the whole experience. That's not to say that either is incomplete but that each one is so well-rounded, so well fleshed out and so in tune that it's almost a continuation rather than an adaptation. I guess that kind of makes this a perfect vehicle for this particular series, since the whole point is to compare film to novel; and this is one where both are SO RIGHT.

First I want to point out that Atom Egoyan is a masterful director. This was the first film of his that I had seen and I was so impressed that I was moved to rush to the side of some of his other work. His style is so calm and relaxed; it perfectly fit the atmosphere of the story. Some have mentioned this being boring or slow paced. It's far from boring in my humble opinion, but the slow pacing is essential to the feel of the film. It helps you to get inside the aftermath of the tragedy by fully understanding the mindset of the town. If you've read the novel you'll understand better, for Banks' also was able to brilliantly capture that pure unsettling serenity with every page.

The story focuses around the small town of Sam Dent after a tragic bus accident leaves 14 children dead, the bus driver, Dolores Driscoll, and a 14 year old student Nichole being two of the only survivors. The film shifts its focus between a few key characters, Nichole, Mitchell (a lawyer) and Billy Ansel, a widower who lost his two children in the wreck. The story follows Mitchell as he tries to persuade the town's people to file a negligence suit against the town of Sam Dent. There are conflicting opinions in regard to the suit, to the money and to the accident as a whole and those opinions are fleshed out so well before us. Each of these human beings has so much history, so much baggage, yet Egoyan's superb film never gets bogged down. That is due in large part to his calm and tranquil pace.

For some novel and film comparisons...

To me the novel excels in really exposing Mitchell Stephens, for the man he really is. He's troubled by the wayward course his only daughter Zoe has taken and this affects his almost every move. It's almost as if he's fighting for her with every breath, every case, as if she was his only motive. I feel that film adaptation excels in really exposing Nichole's character. That's not to say that Banks doesn't breathe life into the soul he created, but Egoyan's film effortlessly makes her the star, giving her so much substance and character and really fleshing her out in all due subtlety to make her relatable and heartbreaking, the moral center of a tragic accident. The book brilliantly relates Dolores Driscoll's account of the accident as well as the post-accident life in the small town, her treatment by the town's people before and after.

Somewhere where the novel and the film seem to tie or at least both deliver valiantly is in the case of Billy Ansel, the Vietnam-War Vet widower who loved his kids more than anything, the man who was trailing behind the bus waving to his children when he lost his whole world with the sight of a crash. His story is heartbreaking. The book though really delivers with its final chapter, something that is not delved into with the film, and it adds a few more layers to both Ansel and Driscoll. But, speaking of finales, the film takes a different approach, centering more on Nichole's character, with the inclusion of the children's story `The Pied Piper of Hamelin'. This poem when analyzed really helps flesh out Nichole's character and delivers such a powerful finale I was literally in tears. So, this is why I can't help but recommend both in the same breath. They both add so much and deliver so well that you truly must read and then watch or watch and then read to grasp the magic in its entirety.


  1. More to catch up on...not seen the film or read the book. :(

  2. Both are amazing. The novel is probably in my top ten of all time, and the film would make my top ten of the decade and would win my 1997 Best Picture award.