Film vs. F(r)iction : a Literary Comparison
Words By Ariel Fagiola, Art By Clara Weaver Parrish
While bending genre and exploring new ways to showcase creativity within writing are huge motivators for us here at F(r)iction, part of being so explorative means to seek out other mediums of inspiration. For me, one of those mediums is film and the ways that adaptations can be created or inspired by written stories. Analyzing content like film and short stories together opens up an entirely new worm-hole of weird and enticing thought, often uncovering ideas that would never be compared without adventuring outside the literary sphere. In this speculative analysis I’ve taken a few of my favorite strange films to dissect and paired them with a few of the most adored stories published at F(r)iction as suggested by some of our amazing editors.
“The Way of the Woods” and Swiss Army Man
Okay, finding a film about a dead baby in the woods proved to be challenging. But, because this critically acclaimed short story by Audra Kerr-Brown doesn’t fixate on the grimness of its premise, I’ve decided to pair it with a more ridiculous film: Swiss Army Man. This quirky indie flick follows the adventures of a young man washed ashore on an island and a dead man turned all-purpose tool as the two seek freedom and love. I wasn’t crazy about this movie at first. I thought it was gimmicky and that there was entirely too much flatulence. But, after letting the film settle, I decided it was worth the watch and in fact very insightful.
How could a movie about a dead guy and a lonely man be funny? This film approaches the seemingly heavy themes of loss and love with a comedic take on death and decay. After reading “Way of the Woods” I couldn’t help but see the similarities between the story’s theme of uncontrollable and unknowable death and the film’s dark undertones. The film highlights the protagonist’s loneliness in spite of death while the story uses the innocent reactions of the young camp girls to offer a new perspective to trauma. Both plots rely on an instinctual reaction to death and feelings of helplessness about a traumatic event to push the narrative forward. One uses humor to combat mortality and the other exchanges the automatic response of horror with the young protagonists’ unembellished but juvenile understanding of death.
“Burning Desire” and Children of Men
Because this short story about the start of an airborne epidemic has such a wonderfully ambiguous ending, my mind was going wild about which of the countless epidemic films I could compare it to. Ultimately, I landed on Children of Men, a movie about a dystopian version of our world where society is infertile. The narrative follows the characters’ struggle to find hope in a world filled with fear and violence, specifically lacking the joy of children. Although this was a large blockbuster hit, this film does an incredible job of arousing emotions of alienation and mortality, as well as the grotesqueness of life’s frailty. The power of this film lies in its exploration of survival, fear, and how these emotions can force humans to be violent.
“Burning Desire” focuses on this same notion through one man with a mysterious, troubled past. Because the reader doesn’t know the protagonist’s motives for his act of irreversible damage, we are left to speculate. The film gives us more concrete reasons for destruction (i.e. the infertility of humans) without giving too much away. Both plots force their audiences to grapple with a catastrophic instance, then factor in the consequences of human error. After reading “Burning Desire” and watching Children of Men, I had the same experience of multi-layered discovery after watching. At their core, both of these narratives explore the damage humans inflict on themselves and the environment that can only be changed by an altered perspective.
“Pushing Down Daisies” and Upstream Color
There are many movies about cancer, and many of them rely on the same tropes. This beautiful short story is about cancer, yes, but it’s also about understanding one’s role within nature’s inevitable life cycle. There is a powerful moment in “Pushing Down Daisies” where the protagonist realizes that she is not just a woman, but a being that will exist in the earth for much longer than her conscious mind and ailing body. This moment forces the thematic focus of the story further away from a typical illness narrative and resonates deeply with the highly confusing yet beautiful film Upstream Color. After finishing both the story and the film, I couldn’t get the idea of dying flowers out of my head. Upstream Color is not about cancer, or a relationship or caretaking, but it wrestles with decaying life, finding your roots, and letting go when human action has no power. The film begins with a kidnapping and evolves into a mystery about finding connections. Connections with others, with nature, and with the intense notion that we are unable to control the end of our lives. While the film is harsher than the story, I couldn’t ignore the shared undertones: both pieces encourage the audience to think about the connectivity of nature and illness but does so by lifting the typical trope of sadness and replacing it with the longevity of nature.
While analyzing films and short stories can feel breathy and academic (to some), there’s so much to learn from these comparisons that be translated into the writing consciousness. By allowing ourselves more creative liberties with various mediums, not only do we find endless opportunity for growth, but also ways to share our questions and thoughts over two of the most intriguing and exciting forms of literary art.