This past weekend, my husband and I watched ANNA KARENINA, the British adaptation of the Tolstoy novel by director Joe Wright. I loved the movie in all its quirkiness–the strange non-sets, the experimental scene transitions and the odd musical additions throughout. (You have to see it to understand, and even then, you might be confused.) And since I tried to read the book at one point a few years ago and stopped because I couldn’t get into it, I found it surprisingly easy to follow. The story was heartbreaking and wonderful all at the same time. When we turned it off, I wanted to watch it all over again right away.
But my husband said something that made me stop and think. He thought it was a “woman’s movie”. Huh.
Now, I understood what he meant. It was a love story on a grand scale, and love stories are often labeled women’s movies. It didn’t have killing or fights and while I swooned over the costumes and the jewelry, he barely noticed. In a lot of ways, he was right. This was a woman’s movie. But was this what Tolstoy intended?
I’m sure a lot of writers in history never imagined their books would become anything other than books. While some might have envisioned their works being made into plays, I’d have to assume they could never see the concept of movies coming in the future. What would they think of their books being reinterpreted by some stranger a hundred years or so down the line? Would they approve of the casting? Would the setting be as they imagined it? Would they feel any cuts made for time constraints to be acceptable? We’ll never know, of course, but looking at this latest version of ANNA KARENINA, it makes me wonder if Tolstoy would have approved of his book being labelled essentially a “woman’s movie”. (I know it was not written as women’s fiction, and many would argue that it wasn’t really intended to be that in this movie version, either.)
These days, authors are well aware that many books are made into movies and often, they have movie rights built into their contracts. Yann Martel, for example, was probably hoped his wonderful story LIFE OF PI, would be turned into a film, even though it was difficult to imagine how they’d do it. And this past weekend’s Academy Awards proved that director Ang Lee’s interpretation was exactly what the book needed. It swept up many of the night’s big awards and will probably send people into libraries and bookstores to read (or re-read) the epic story of a boy and a tiger on a boat.
Maybe I’ll go back and try to read ANNA KARENINA again. If it is or isn’t women’s fiction, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s a wonderful story, and I’d love to get lost in the complicated twists and turns of these great characters again.