Monday, June 25, 2012

The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller (1992)

Film: Malpaso Productions/Amblin Entertainment, directed by Clint Eastwood (1995)
I'm guessing that the consensus among most book lovers is that movie adaptations scarcely live up to the book. In the case of The Bridges of Madison County, however, I found that the movie was far better than the book.

The Bridges of Madison County details the brief 4-day love affair between world-traveling photographer Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood) and Iowa housewife and war-bride Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep).

I did not particularly care for the book, although it probably didn't help that my old library book smelled really foul and musty. Anyway, I found that the book had far too many long, drawn-out, boring descriptions of each character. It is always good to have well-developed characters, but in my opinion, it works better if the descriptions are spread throughout the exposition. It also didn't help that Waller decided that Kincaid should have a truck named "Harry." As the story progressed, little phrases like "Harry was hot" or "He loaded Harry up" came up in the writing, which just felt out of place. I also had to keep remembering that the middle-aged, male Kincaid named his truck and referred to it as Harry. Besides this, the book overall felt rather clumsy, sappy and awkward throughout. At its core, the plot and the message of the book was lovely, but I felt like the actual execution of the ideas presented in the book were not as refined as they could have been. But Waller does deserve credit for his lovely plot idea, and some execution on his part.

On the other hand, I have a different opinion on the film. From the transition from page to screen, the dialogue was edited and refined, which helped the conversations flow more easily, which is especially important because of how densely written the film is. It is mostly two people having a conversation. Therefore, the dialogue had better be good, which it was. Small changes in wording greatly enhanced the flow and the feel of the story. For example:

Book line from Kincaid: In a universe of ambiguity, this kind of certainty comes only once, and never again, no matter how many lifetimes you live.
Film line from Kincaid: This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime.

Both lines convey the same general message, but in transition from the book to the film, much of the dialogue was improved upon. As evidenced above, Kincaid's film line is simplified and it becomes less bulky, but it still carries the same idea. Of course, Kincaid's book line is lovely, but it is very dense.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, while I simply tolerated the book. The film was really lovely, and the acting from both principles was well-done. The musical theme composed by Eastwood was another nice touch. The film version had various other high notes in comparison to the book, but I will only note one more improved element: Location or setting is often an important "character" in order to tell a story. The Bridges of Madison County is set in rural Iowa, which appears to be vast, open and beautiful. The lushness and the simple beauty of the land itself provides the entire story with the desired romantic feel. The film features breathtaking cinematography, which draws the audience in, and makes the story more believable/understandable. (just watch the trailer, below) Of course, the novel couldn't have had the same visual power because of the simple fact that it is a book. I recommend the film, while I suggest the novel if you are interested in seeing the dramatic difference between the two versions.

*Meryl Streep on The Bridges of Madison County: "I read, not the whole book, to be fair, but I didn’t think it would be something that I would be interested in.”

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