Tag Archives: adaptations

Tony and Susan’s Nocturnal Animals

How do you choose your next book? Do you read reviews on Goodreads? Ask coworkers what they like? Ask friends what they hate?

Oftentimes, I’ll read about a movie going into production and see it’s based on a book and say to myself, “Hey, self, that’s two of our favorite things. Maybe we should read the book before the movie comes out. Also, are we going on a cleanse this weekend? We’re starting to look a little bloated.”

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Even if you look as spiffy as this guy, don’t talk to yourself. It’s super-annoying for everyone else around you.

That’s how I found out about a new movie from Tom Ford set to star Jake Gyllenhaal (who I’ve gushed about before) and Amy Adams (hot off her Golden Globe win for Best Actress in Tim Burton‘s Big Eyes) called Nocturnal Animals. The movie, scheduled to begin filming in October, is an adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan.

tonyandsusanFifteen years ago, Susan left her husband, Edward. Now it’s 1993 and Susan is living comfortably as the wife of a doctor. One day a package from Edward arrives for Susan. It’s his first manuscript and he wants her opinion; she’s always been his best critic. On the day after Christmas, she begins reading Edward’s story, titled Nocturnal Animals. Susan is instantly absorbed into Tony’s world and finishes it in three sittings. The story within Wright’s novel follows Tony Hastings, a mathematics professor en route to Maine with his wife and daughter for vacation. Along the way, things take a dark and sinister turn that will change the lives of the Hastings forever.

The story-within-a-story format is nothing new (see: The Odyssey and One Thousand and One Nights), but I was just as riveted as Susan in my own reading. That might be because I started reading it the day before I was set to return from my own vacation. As I read about Tony and his family, I began wondering what evils were waiting for me on the darkly-lit interstates on the way back to Pittsburgh. Fortunately, my merry band of travelers and I only encountered the delirium associated with driving for seventeen-ish hours with infrequent breaks.

Susan feels an “uncomfortable undertow” as she reads. “It nudges a certain alarm in her, a fear whose object she does not know but which seems different from the fear in the story itself, something rather in herself.” She wonders what (if anything) Edward is trying to say with his book. She begins to reexamine her own life but resolves not to waver in it.

She thinks, “There are things in life the reading of no mere book can change.”

Oh, how wrong she is.

While the novel is wonderful at illustrating what happens when we think about our pasts—how we are prone to rewrite our own histories as we’re remembering them, painting things in different shades depending on our moods at the moment of remembering—what it really excels at is how it feels to get wrapped up in a book, how “print fastens ephemeral words to the page.” There are several great sentences that convey the terrible pleasure of a good page-turner, which is exactly what Tony and Susan is.

“She feels bruised by her reading and by life too. She wonders, does she always fight her books before yielding to them?”

Susan goes to the bathroom not out of necessity, but as a deliberate interruption when the suspense is too much.  When the phone rings, it’s described as brutally invading her reading.

“She puts the manuscript down. It’s time to stop for the night, though it seems murderous to quit now. Another painful interruption like divorce, required by the discrepancy between the laws of reading and the laws of life. You can’t read all night, not if you have responsibilities like Susan.”

I, like Susan, have felt the struggle of promising myself just one more chapter. She contemplates Tony’s problems and compares them to hers before realizing that Tony’s are simpler because they are not real.

“She’s caught by the strangeness of what she’s doing, reading a made-up story. Putting herself into a special state, like a trance, while someone else (Edward) pretends certain imaginings are real.”

But aren’t books real for us as we’re reading them? Does the fact that it’s fiction make it any less real in our minds? We go on the journey with the characters and if they’re changed by the book’s end, then chances are we are as well. Who amongst us hasn’t had a moment of silence when finally reaching a book’s end?

“The book ends. Susan has watched it dwindle before her eyes, down through final chapter, page, paragraph, word. Nothing remains and it dies. She is free now to reread or look back at parts, but the book is dead and will never be the same again. In its place, whistling through the gap it left, a blast of wind like liberty. Real life, coming back to get her. She needs a silence before returning to herself. Absolute stillness, no thought, no interpretation or criticism, just a memorial silence for the reading life that has ended. … There’s a shock of terror in the return of real life, concealed by her reading, waiting to swoop down on her like a predator in the trees.”

Honestly, that’s the most apt description of finishing a book I’ve ever read.

There’s an odd undercurrent of civility versus male bravado that runs throughout the novel; mild-mannered intelligence measured against that old alpha male persona. Susan also thinks about civility as she reads; she believes it’s her ability to read that keeps her civilized. Tony, too, is constantly described as objectively good and civil.

“[Tony] felt a kinship with cowboys and baseball players. He had never ridden a horse and had not played baseball since childhood, and he was not very big and strong, but he wore a black mustache and considered himself easygoing.”

Despite that kinship and his mustache, he’s portrayed as less manly, which is odd considering it’s a popular trope to believe that a mustache is the ultimate form of manliness.

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This is the first image that comes up when you search Google Images for “manliness”. Spoiler alert: they all have mustaches. Picture taken from http://www.artofmanliness.com

As for the impending adaptation, I’m hoping it’s better than 2012’s The Words, which had a similar but different premise. If Ford can capture a brutality akin to 2013’s Prisoners for the parts of the film that feature Tony Hasting’s life and juxtapose that with something seemingly idyllic like 2009’s Chloe (the beginning, at least) for Susan’s life, I’d be a happy camper.

While we wait for the movie, which could be at least a year before it lands in theaters, why not read the book? I’ve heard a rumor that Summer Reading is in full swing at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

–Ross

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Penny(wise) For Your Thoughts

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This cover was clearly inspired by juggalos. And nothing is more terrifying than a juggalo. Nothing.

A remake of Stephen King’s It has been languishing in development hell for years. I first became aware of it in 2009 when I started reading the book (which I’ve yet to finish), but it was reported in December 2014 that Cary Fukunaga, the director of the first season of True Detective, would be helming the remake. If you’ve seen True Detective, you know that Fukunaga is more than capable of crafting an unseen horror that is still tangible. While filming of the two-part adaptation is expected to begin this summer, Fukunaga is still searching for the perfect actor to portray Pennywise, the titular It who takes the form of a vicious clown. Tim Curry played the character in the 1990 made-for-television miniseries.

One of the things the Internet loves as much as cats is fan casting. New lists pop up each time an adaptation of a known property is in the works. A simple Google search of “pennywise casting” returns several articles, some dating back to 2009. The names I’ve seen range from wonderfully inspired (Tilda Swinton, Geoffrey Rush), to downright amazing (Willem Dafoe, Michael Shannon), to uninspired (Johnny Depp, Michael Fassbender) to so far out in left field that they might just be fantastic (Nicolas Cage?! Channing Tatum?!). Not to be outdone, I thought I’d throw my own names into the ring.


Michael Keaton
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Coming off a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance in Birdman or, (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Keaton is hotter than ever right now and as a fellow Pittsburgher, I couldn’t be more proud. Keaton is always golden in everything he does and while horror films are generally looked down upon by Academy voters (The Exorcist, Silence of the Lambs and The Sixth Sense being exceptions) Keaton might be able to score another Best Actor nom.

Robert Downey Jr
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He’s also hot right now, thanks to those small superhero movies he keeps making. I feel like he’s versatile enough (extremely versatile) to pull off the killer clown. And he’s never really played an outright bad guy so it’d be an interesting change of pace.

David Bowie
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Think of the lanky alien from The Man Who Fell to Earth or the tights-wearing, bulge-sporting Goblin King from Labyrinth. There’s a charm that Bowie exudes in those roles that would make his portrayal even more unsettling. Granted, The Thin White Duke might be a bit too old for it now, but clown makeup could probably make his age a non-issue.

J. K. Simmons
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I will openly admit that I have a man-crush on J.K. Simmons (I think it’s those baby blues). I laughed with him in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films and empathized with him in Jason Reitman’s films, but he terrified me in Whiplash. Shouldn’t an eldritch evil manifested as a clown do the same thing?

Meryl Streep
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Since Tilda Swinton is in almost every other fancast for this project, I wanted to offer another female name. Streep was wicked in Into the Woods and is obviously a capable actor. However, I feel like casting her might result in a hammy performance, a la Death Becomes Her. That could be scary in its own way, though.

BONUS
Matthew McConaughey or Woody Harrelson
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I haven’t checked my history books lately so I don’t know if we’re still living in the McConaissance or not, but picture him as emaciated as he was in Dallas Buyers Club, but  in clown make up and you’ve got yourself a new nightmare for a new generation. And Harrelson can go from friendly to mean and angry at the drop of a hat. It’d be terrifying to see him go from playful to evil. Given the fact that Fukunaga has already worked with both on True Detective, I’d really love to see what they could cook up here.

Ron Perlman? Christian Bale? Tom Hiddleston? The possibilities are endless! Who would you cast as the demonic clown?  Are you looking forward to the remake? Let us know in the comments.

–Ross

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Read It Before You See It

Let’s face it, a movie based on a book is nothing new. Some adaptations manage to translate the story to film very well, and some… eh, you know. (One of my favorites is Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake – beautifully written and acted.) Before you head to the multi-plex in the next few months, check out a few of the books that are making the jump from page to screen.

Gangster Squad – From journalist Paul Lieberman’s book, this is your “based on a true story” offering. In order to take down one mobster, Sgts Jack O’Mara and Jerry Wooters form an uneasy alliance with another. With a backdrop of 1950s Los Angeles, this tale explores a time when police could be almost as lawless as the criminals they were chasing.

Warm Bodies – Isaac Marion’s book was one of my favorite reads from last year. The story itself is a loose take on Romeo and Juliet, with zombie R (all he can remember of his name) falling in love with the very human Julie. R’s internal dialogue is much sharper than his outward abilities, but as he spends more time with Julie, his humanity begins to creep back.

Beautiful Creatures – First in a growing series, this YA book is part paranormal fantasy and part Southern gothic. Beautiful Creatures is told from the perspective of Ethan, who is drawn to the new girl in town – Lena. Lena has just moved into an appropriately creepy, falling-apart plantation, and is dealing with magical powers and a family curse that has lasted generations.

The Host – This was Stephenie Meyer’s stab at an adult sci-fi novel, post-Twilight. Earth has been invaded by an alien species that takes over the minds of a human host. Melanie is now carrying Wanderer, but is fighting it with all she can, especially for the memories of Jared.  Melanie and Wanderer become reluctant allies as they search for one of the last human safe places.

Safe Haven – I’ll be honest – Nicholas Sparks is not my cup of tea at all. I certainly don’t mind some schlock-y romance every now and again, but everyone has their limits. In Safe Haven, the very mysterious Katie moves to a North Carolina coast town to start her life over. Between Jo, her neighbor, and Alex, the handsome widower with two kids, Katie begins to find a reason to settle down in this new town.

– Jess

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