Watchmen (2009)

Analysis of the Book

Alan Moore’s Watchmen was a graphic novel released in 1986 that chronicles a group of masked vigilantes who have been outlawed.Moore presents an alternate history of America, where in the 1980s Nixon is still president and the threat of nuclear war with Russia looms over everyone. Moore writes a work that explores several issues including metaphysics, nuclear war, American politics, and corporate corruption. Moore also seems to criticize the comic book industry through his characters, who each have their own set of deep flaws that one would not associate with a typical super hero story. Each character explores a different facet of human nature (The Comedian as the money hungry nihilist for hire, Ozymandias as a power seeking egomaniac with a God complex, Dr. Manhattan as a repetent tool of war, etc.) Moore has three story lines going on in this graphic novel, one of which is self-reflexive. He provides the story of the Watchmen (their history, disbandment, and reunion) who are trying to save the world from one of their own and that of the comic within the comic, The Black Freighter. Dave Gibbons illustrates a dark smoggy city under conflict that excellently reflects the story line and the sometimes grey morality that the story handles. His inclusion of the doomsday clock graphic at the beginning of each chapter helps build suspense for the ending as readers get to see how as the chapters progress, the clock moved closer and closer to midnight or nuclear annihilation for America.

Analysis of the Film

Although Moore intended to make this graphic novel unfilmable it was adapted in 2009 by director Zach Snyder. Like Moore’s graphic novel, it is not the typical super hero story that movie goers have gotten used to in recent years like Spider Man, Superman, and Batman series which are considered to be softer, feel good, family movies. It is much darker and handles more heavy subjects such as rape, murder, sex, and exploitation. Snyder leaves his signature on the film with his slow motion action shots, hyper-violence, and excessive blood and gore. Perhaps it was this along with Snyder’s alteration of the plot that caused the movie to financially and critically when it was released.

Analysis of the Adaptation

In trying to adapt Moore’s graphic novel, there were several aspects that Snyder had to leave out of the film. The Black Freighter comic was not included in the movie but as an extra for the DVD. He had to exclude it because it wouldn’t make sense in the film medium as it’s supposed to be self-reflexive for comic readers and would only make sense if you read in that context. Snyder also altered the ending of the film making Dr. Manhattan the enemy that Ozymandias chooses for the world instead of an alien squid monster. The adoption of this ending maybe made more sense for the film as it was a plot device that would have kept continuity within the film more manageable unlike in the novel where it is part of a sub-plot alluded to. The changed ending makes much more sense for continuity within the film because introducing the subplot seen in the comic would have made the movie much longer and would seem a little far fetched and strange, which is in the typical style of Moore. Snyder also left out bits and pieces of the characters’ backstories that helped readers understand the characters and their motivations a way better than what Snyder presented movie goers. This lack of deep characterization and major plot changes gets at Moore’s negative attitude towards Hollywood taking on the comic world.

Online Research

  • An article that explores Alan Moore’s reaction to the adaptation of Watchmen.

  • An article on that shows how Moore’s graphic novel made helped the genre to be taken seriously as an artistic medium.

  • An interview with Watchmen director Zach Snyder providing some insight to how he thinks the graphic novel comments on pop culture.

Critical Analysis

What do you think of the music soundtrack in Watchmen? Does it faithfully represent the themes of the film? How about the themes of the book?

I believe the sound track fits the themes and events in the film very well. Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” captures the shift of masked vigilantes being revered heros to outlawed has-beens and the ushering in of a new era in American politics and life at the time. Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” speaks to the Silk Spectres (both mother and daughter) difficulty with finding love with men, Laurie’s issues lie with Night Owl and Dr. Manhattan while her mother had to deal with The Comedian, her rapist, who she ultimately forgives because she got Laurie out of it. These songs are all hits from the 50s, 60s, and 70s so it is appropriate with the time line of the novel and can capture the feelings of the real America. They speak directly to the feeling and emotion of the scenes they are dubbed over and is actually one of the aspects of the adaptation of the graphic novel that I (as a slight Watchmen fangirl) did not take issue with. They all speak to deeply personal human conflict, societal change, carnal desire and a yearning for the past, key emotions within Moore’s graphic novel.


Adaptation Paper – No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men is Cormac McCarthy’s ninth novel released in 2005. It centers around the points of view of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, Llewelyn Moss, and Anton Chigurh. The novel starts off with the thoughts of Sheriff Bell, which reads as a diary entry and is the only place in the novel that is narrated in the first person. The prose throughout the novel (barring Bell’s commentary) is mostly terse and free of excessive or flowery descriptions. A lot of punctuation is noticeably absent and he tends to tells readers the thoughts, actions, and environments of his characters rather than leave room for guess work. James Wood in an article for The New Yorker describes McCarthy’s prose as fitting with the theme of the novel,

“Curiously, McCarthy’s new novel has almost none of the battered ormolu that makes his earlier prose so distinctive. There is one hokey moment when a violent assassin named Anton Chigurh stands over a Mexican drug dealer and shoots him, ‘watching his own image degrade in that squandered world,’ and the reader anticipates a rising paragraph of ornate plaint. But McCarthy is continent here, which is in keeping with the spirit of the novel. Everything is tight, reduced, simple, and very violent.”

Each chapter is prefaced with Bell’s ruminations, where he discusses and philosophizes on a number of things including his past, his failures, human apathy, and the future of America. Bell sets a nostalgic and even mournful tone for the old days of his youth when America and the town he has served since 25 years of age were a different place. He compares and contrasts growth of human apathy, violence, and “innovation” that he believes are going to send America to hell in a hand basket. Bell is at the end of his career and seems to be wrestling and reconciling with the transformation of the American landscape.

It’s clear that Bell is one of the “Old Men” referred to in the title. Through his entries we see how he feels displaced in modern American society. He prefers old weapons, cars, and ways of getting things done. He values respect, courtesy, and justice while everyone else seems to hold more value in material things like money and drugs. This is seen through Llewelyn, who puts his wife and his life in danger for the $2.3 million dollar he finds at a drug exchange gone wrong. Carson Wells also kills people solely for profit and isn’t above working for drug lords. Chigurh is the wild card in this whole novel as his motivations aren’t entirely clear until the end of the novel where he reveals that he believes that fate brings people to him in order for him to kill them. As Carson Wells describes Chigurh,

“He’s a peculiar man. You could even say that he has principles. Principles that transcend money or drugs or anything like that.” (McCarthy 153)

McCarthy also seems to touch on the effect of war on a society. All of the men in this novel are war veterans: Sheriff Bell for World War II and Llewelyn, Carson Wells, and quite possibly Chigurh for the Vietnam war. These men’s worth and the respect they earn is often determined throughout the novel by their veteran status. Moss passes through the border because he tells the border agent that he served two tours in Vietnam. At the hospital in Piedras Negras Wells is interested if Llewelyn fought in Vietnam. And even Wells himself is questioned during his interview if he was a Vietnam vet. Along with this, Vietnam is brought up several instance throughout the book even in description of the gruesome scene of the drug deal. War seems to set the stage for how these men live their lives by providing them a set of violent skills they bring over the United States that affects a new generation. Joan Mellen agrees with this viewpoint in her article for Film Quarterly where she compare No Country for Old Men with another movie that deals with the same themes,

“The men, having returned from Vietnam and Iraq, have grown, in varying degrees…addicted to killing…they have brought their atrocities home. Both films depict a precipitous decline in the moral fiber of American society where the safety of its citizens have become, as never before, a virtual anachronism.”

The first time Moss is introduced he is hunting antelope in the Texas desert as he was a sniper for the Army and a theme of hunting is clear and present with all the characters as they chase each other. It is a taste they acquired at war and seem to enjoy. Wells was Special Forces with the Army and uses his skill to become a hitman for hire. Bell on the other hand is haunted by his past in the military, where a squad of men died under his command, something he tries to correct by becoming sheriff and protecting people. This further demonstrates his departure from even a new generation of war veterans.

The Coen Brothers adapted McCarthy’s novel in 2007 and managed to stay very close to the source material in terms of plot and dialogue. As A.O. Scott of the The New York Times writes,

“The script follows Mr. McCarthy’s novel almost scene for scene, and what the camera discloses is pretty much what the book describes: a parched, empty landscape; pickup trucks and taciturn men; and lots of killing. But the pacing, the mood and the attention to detail are breathtaking, sometimes literally.”

The plot, scenes and dialogue is for the most part identical to that found in the novel but the Coen brother’s did remove some elements like certain subplots and Bell’s personal insights were dramatically shortened. They also seem to have elected to get rid of any excessive background music to set the mood of the scenes, allowing viewers to experience the scene for all it’s other elements. What results is a raw truth of the scene that reflects the silence that McCarthy brings up several times in his novel to describe the environments his characters find themselves in: “Deep shadows. Silence. Nothing.” (85) “Dead quiet.” (107) “Silence. Nothing.” (117) Its a recurring description that the Coen brothers no doubt picked up on and represented in the film excellently. The shuffle of feet, or heavy breathing of a character anticipating in fear helps build suspense or set up the emotional tones of scenes just as well as a musical score would have.

In their adaptation, the Coen brothers cut out two main elements of McCarthy’s novel that I believe would have added greatly to the story, Bell’s narrative voice and Llewelyn’s time with the hitchhiker girl and his subsequent death.

The Coen brothers chose to reduce Bell’s narrative in the movie to a short voice over at the beginning and a one shot framing of him at the end of the movie seemingly talking to the audience about his dream from the night before. This changes the tone somewhat of the film in that audiences don’t get to see Bell as the philosophical driver of the movie as he is in the book. He takes a subsidiary role to Llewelyn and Chigurh’s cat and mouse chase around Texas. Through these entries, readers get great insight into Bell’s actions throughout the rest of the story. One such revelation is that Bell came back from World War II a decorated soldier that was charged with leading a group of men in battle. He was the sole survivor of that group and he reflects on the unfairness of him getting rewarded even though he failed to keep his fellow soldiers alive. We see how this steers his motivation to not let anybody down again, people such as his wife and Llewelyn Moss, who he desperately tries to save from the people after him. As Chigurh is constantly one step ahead of Bell, he starts to feel that same failure and uselessness he felt at the end of the war even though he still manages to be the one to live through it all. Leaving this out is to leave out a big chunk of who Sheriff Bell is. His narrative was the most intimate story telling in the book that provides the deepest insights into why America is no longer a country for old men such as Bell.

The exclusion of Llewelyn’s hitchhiker subplot takes away some of the sympathy for Llewelyn, who shines through as a good man who just made a bad choice. He does not try to take advantage of the runaway girl, stays faithful to his wife, helps the girl out by giving her $1000 and advice, and even comes to refer to her as “little sister.” By leaving out the scene of his murder as described in the book, viewers did not get a good sense of what type of man he is. In the novel, a Mexican drug dealer figures out where Llewelyn is hiding and attacks the hotel room for the money. The Mexican takes the girl as a human shield and puts a gun to her head and Llewelyn immediately puts down the weapon he has in order to spare her life. The man ends ups murdering the girl and Llewelyn anyway but this scene would have been key to showing viewers that maybe the world isn’t going to hell in a hand basket as Bell suggests. Llewelyn acted altruistically by putting down his weapon, ready to sacrifice his life for that of the girl he barely knew; it is an altruism that Bell seems to think is all but gone in the world and a sacrifice Llewelyn wasn’t willing to make for Carla Jean when Chigurh proposed to spare her life for his. Llewelyn is somewhat redeemed here (at least in my mind) as he tries to set one last thing right and viewers aren’t able to get the full range of his character.


McCarthy, Cormac. No Country for Old Men. New York: Knopf, 2005. Print.

Spiraling Downward: America in Days of Heaven, In the Valley of Elah, and No Country for Old Men.

Joan Mellen

Film Quarterly

Spring 2008

He Found a Bundle of Money and Now There’s Hell to Pay

A. O. Scott

New York Times

9 November 2007

Red Planet: The Sanguinary Sublime of Cormac McCarthy

James Wood

The New Yorker

25 July 2005

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

1. Analysis of the Book

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third installment of J.K. Rowling’s of her globally popular children’s fantasy series. Although it is under this genre, Rowling’s novels appeal to and have been wildly popular with teen and adult audiences because they manage to tackle more adult issues like disloyalty, world war, death, and racism. This novel particularly takes a darker turn in the Harry Potter series as Harry is now 13 and has to face the traitor(s) who led to the death of his parents and now he thinks seek to kill him as well in order to finish the job they started. Rowling also introduces darker magical creatures such as the bogarts, dementors and werewolves that all feed on people’s fears and seek to harm people in some way. Rowling also touches on classism, racism, and animal rights with the Buckbeak/Hermione/Malfoy conflict occurring amidst the Harry and Sirius main plot. This novel is one where Harry goes through more psychologically harrowing trauma with dementors, a possible brutal murderer after him, dealing with his dark family history, and trying to perfect the Patronus charm to save the day.

2. Analysis of the Film

This third film of the Harry Potter series is the first to go in a different direction with Alfonso Cuarón directing instead of Chris Columbus. Where Chris Columbus seemed to be more concerned with making the movies more literal to the source text, light, and childish as befits the characters’ age, Cuarón makes this film feel darker and more mature as Harry has grown into adolescence. With a new Dumbledore and darker visual styles, this film looks and feels a lot more heavy and mature as Harry has to take on darker magic and even shadier characters like Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew. The plot is fairly straight forward, suspenseful, adds a new setting for audiences to see (Hogsmeade), and delves more deeply into Harry’s past. Cuarón vividly brings to life certain aspects of magical world like the Knight Bus and new magical creatures to ogle at. He also manages to throw some comic relief here and there so that the film is not too heavy or totally unappealing to younger audiences who have read the book.

3. Analysis of the Adaptation

The plot and general feel of the novel are ultimately captured in this film. With any Harry Potter film, the difficulty in filming it is deciding what to keep and what to throw out of J.K. Rowling’s very expansive fictional universe and keep the movie under three hours. Many things are usually cut from the films that were not deemed immediately important to the story but Cuarón manages to do this successfully and change the feel of Harry Potter from child’s fantasy to a more serious coming of age story. Things such as Quidditch, which goes into great detail in the novels don’t branch out as much in this film simply because there isn’t enough time to present it or wouldn’t be interesting for movie goers interested in a good, fast-paced plot. The fear inducing nature of the dementors and werewolves are conveyed in their grotesque and menacing looks and the imminent danger they present to Harry along with Lupin, Sirius, and Pettigrew. Harry Potter’s emotional and internal struggle are presented well although Radcliffe’s acting kind of short changes the full power and effect it’s supposed to have in the story.

4. Online Research

  • A wikipedia entry dedicated the differences between the film and novel versions of Prisoner of Azkaban.

  • Roger Ebert reviews Prisoner of Azkaban and compares some of the themes and differences with this movie and the previous two.

  • A.O. Scott reviews the film and discusses how Cuarón’s version may come off the viewers who have grown up with the Harry Potter series and those who are new to it.

5. Critical Analysis

To many critics, Alfonso Cuarón did a good job in the film in steering the Harry Potter series in a darker direction. How is Prisoner of Azkaban “dark”? And how does this relate to the growing maturity of both the main characters and the actors?

Prisoner of Azkaban is darker in the subjects and themes that J.K. Rowling chose to tackle in this book and subsequently Cuarón translated to film. The movie and book centers around the consequences of disloyalty, dishonesty, fear, and death. Sirius Black is renowned for allegedly performing one of the most brutal murders and betraying his best friends and godson, leading to the death of Harry’s parents and his near death. Harry, being older, reflects more on his feelings about barely knowing his parents, missing their presence in his life, and knowing that they died for him. It is something that is emotionally harrowing for him and is constantly rehashed especially in this book and film because he constantly hears about or sees their alleged killer, Sirius, plastered all over the news and wanted posters. We see that it is an emotional trauma that impedes him from properly performing the Patronus charm when Lupin tries to teach him for his own protection. Peter Pettigrew’s dishonesty is what ultimately caused the death of Harry’s parents, as he betrayed the Potter’s location in exchange for petty power.

There is also the introduction of dementors, bogarts, and werewolves, creatures who feed off of people’s fears. Harry and multiple characters have to confront their fears with the bogart in Lupin’s class and focus greatly to overcome the hurdle of paralyzing fear. This is ultimately displayed at the end as Harry finally musters up the courage and strength the summon his patronus to save himself.

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Analysis of the Book

Published in 1977, A Scanner Darkly is a science fiction novel that centers around Substance D, a highly addictive drug that approximately 40% of the American population consumes. Robert Arctor/Fred is working undercover to take down a Substance D drug ring and in the process gets himself addicted to the drug, which causes him to be shipped off to New Path rehab centers that exploit severe addicts in order to grow more of the plant that produces Substance D. The novel mirrors Dick’s life as at the time of its writing Dick was highly addicted to speed and tranquilizers and living among other addicts as Bob does. Dick increasingly  experienced feelings of paranoia against figures of authority and the government as his habit progressed. This paranoia translates over to the novel in his characters, who constantly think that someone is out to exploit them in some way, including the government and ordinary people in the street. Dick also explores the cause and effects of addiction through his characters as they all experience their addictions in different ways and are at different stages of addiction. This novel at the time also captured the pulse of the American people who were still reeling from shady government happenings and a culture that was heavily saturated with rampant drug use.

Analysis of the Film

Richard Linklater’s 2006 adaptation of A Scanner Darkly adopts the use of interpolated rotoscope animation to achieve a more surreal and trippy world as Dick imagines in his novel. Through this, reality is a little blurry. Lines, objects, people and their expressions seem more fluid and things seems a little more unstable as they move in weird or unnatural ways. The images float between reality and fantasy, much like users of Substance D. The music throughout the film tends to heighten the bizarre nature of character’s actions on Substance D. Time is a concept that gets lost and we see that through Bob Arctor’s character who moves in and out of hallucinations and seems to black out between being Fred and Bob. Much of the comedy is derived from the characters’ extreme paranoia and ridiculous antics while under the influence of Substance D.

Analysis of the Adaptation

Linklater accurately depicts the themes, characters, and world that Dick portrays in his novel. The film remains very faithful to the plot of the novel and the characters all turn out to be just as imagined. Rotoscope animation perfectly captures the world as seen through an addict’s eyes because it makes environments vivid with color and often made things like furniture and grass pop out more giving it an almost 3D effect. This type of animation also gave objects an almost unnatural movement that easily shows the haze that Substance D puts on the mind and demonstrates the otherworldly effects of the drug as described by Dick. Though it is based on a novel from 1977, the film doesn’t feel dated in its themes of drug abuse/addiction and paranoia of “The Man” because they are easily relatable to current events such as the questionable Patriotic Act, the war on drugs, and the rise in use/abuse/oversubscription of pharmaceutical drugs.

Online Research

  • Article from Wired Magazine where Linklater relays the difficulties of making a movie in rotoscope, financing of the film, and his intentions behind using the technique.

  • Interview with Richard Linklater where he discusses Philip K. Dick’s work, how the paranoia in A Scanner Darkly  reflects today’s society after the Bush administration, and previous versions of adaptations of the novel.

  • Phillip Purser-Hallard recounts events in Philip K. Dick’s life that had an influence on his outlook on life as particularly seen in A Scanner Darkly.

Critical Analysis

A Scanner Darkly was published in 1977, but not filmed until 2005. How does the film reflect the concerns of 1977 (post-1960s)? How does it reflect the concerns of 2005 (post 9-11)? Are any of the concerns of 1977 the same as those of 2005 (or vice versa)?

In many ways the concerns of the late 70s are similar to contemporary issues with distrust of the government, the war on drugs, and privacy violations as prominent issues of the two eras. In the 70s, America was recovering from the Watergate Scandal of Nixon’s presidency, a society saturated with new drugs (where Nixon in 1971 described drug abuse as “public enemy number one” in the United States), and possible government collusions with drug distribution. Several investigations into government agencies (such as the CIA) prompted the American public to be wary of trusting the government’s actions blindly and both Dick and Linklater display this type of paranoia in each of the characters. They are aware that the government has the power to violate their privacy or manipulate the public all for the sake of a “war on drugs” and act accordingly.

In the 21st century, 9/11 was the impetus to The Patriot Act, a law that gives the government permission to monitor any person thought to be a conspirator of terrorist activities without repercussions from privacy laws. This sort of free reign has made the 21st century American public very paranoid about what the government is given power to access without an individual’s permission such as emails, phone calls, bank activity, instant messaging, and various other web activity. The scanners installed in Arctor’s home, bar code license plates, and constant government surveillance of the public shown in A Scanner Darkly  reflects on this type of control over the public by government officials. It shows contemporary audiences a vision of what could become of our society if the government is given free reign over our privacy without consequence. Each of the characters are consumed with paranoia against any government establishment, always jumping to the conclusion that authorities will abuse their power to frame them for crimes or to kill them in the street. It is this abuse of power and paranoia that resonates with problems of the 1970s to today.

Another big concern of contemporary audiences is big corporation takeover. People are becoming more and more concerned that Walmart, Disney, Fox, GE and several other mega corporations have too much power over too many facets of life like entertainment, news, and politics; so much so that many small businesses have no chance of competing with. Their power over the mass population is allowed and encouraged by American capitalism and this is seen through the company New Path in A Scanner Darkly. It is revealed that New Path is a corporation that manufactures, distributes, and profits from “rehabilitating” addicts of Substance D. The government and local authorities seem content to collude with New Path as all parties involved get a monetary benefit from Substance D addiction even if it’s at the expense of thousands (or even millions) of lives.

No Country For Old Men (2007)

Analysis of the Book

No Country for Old Men is Cormac McCarthy’s commentary on the displacement of traditional values as modernity invades society. Through Sheriff Bell, McCarthy imbues conservative viewpoint resistent to change, he is a character who believes that modern values are what’s making the world a deplorable place to live in. He is a jaded man of law who has been around long enough to see how crime has evolved and escalated into something more ruthless and grotesque. The methodical hitman, Chigurh, embodies this modernity as he doesn’t adhere to  traditional morality, relishes in violence, and is concerned with only himself. Llewelyn is the middle man, grappling with both worlds and demonstrating the struggle between moving forward and adhering to old ways of doing the right thing by not only himself but with others.

Analysis of the Film

No Country for Old Men is reminiscent of great American westerns of yesteryear, as it is set in small towns of western Texas and it’s outlying deserts and at times has a noir feel to it. There is the morally upright sheriff on a mission to find the hopelessly evil murderer, Chigurh, who brings death where ever he goes. Like old noir films, we get an insight into the Sheriff’s mind through his voice over and his dialogue that shows him trying to figure out the crime and his values. This murderer causes him to doubt the beliefs he grew up with and question the cultural shift in the world around him. Directed by the Coen brothers, this film’s central theme is the displacement of traditional conservative values in the shift towards modernity. Tommy Lee Jones excellently characterizes the emotionally and philosophically troubled sheriff. Javier Bardem’s performance of Anton Chigurh brings to life  his cold, calculating, and apathetic nature towards human life. Viewers are captured by the cat and mouse hunt between Chigurh and Llewelyn Moss and by the enigmatic motivations of Chigurh. This film ultimately tries to criticize and figure out America’s modern moral character in a time just before our society turned highly technological.

Analysis of the Adaptation

Aside from the voice over narration at the beginning of the film, Sheriff Bell’s internal commentary, which is scattered throughout Cormac McCarthy’s novel and reads as a type of diary, is noticeably absent. Although these stand alone monologues are transformed in the context of dialogue with other characters, which changes the impact and interiority seen in the novel. It also diminished Sheriff Bell’s central role (as seen in the novels) into a subsidiary role. He is pushed to the dark corners of this film and not a huge focus, which embodies McCarthy’s idea that in the swiftly changing modern times, old men like Bell are no longer paid attention to and their roles in society are seen as less essential to move forward. In fact, every time Bell is on screen he seems to be mourning the past in some way. He talks about neighbors not caring about each other, children not calling their parents “sir” and “ma’am,” and even laments the old way of killing cattle. Besides this, the Coen brothers managed to make a movie that was almost identical to every scene in the novel, making it one of the most accurate adaptations seen so far in this class. Chigurh is excellently acted by Javier Bardem catches the stoic, darkly determined spirit of Chigurh while Josh Brolin exhibits excellently a man in desperate conflict trying to outrun his decisions. Tommy Lee Jones plays the nostalgic, world weary sheriff fed up with people’s indifference towards each other. The Coen brothers force audiences to pay attention to the little details that McCarthy points out in his novel by omitting a sountrack and forcing audiences to see the scene for all its elements.

Online Research

  • An interview for Empire Magazine where Javier Bardem discusses the nature of his character in No Country for Old Men and how he and the Coen Brothers arrived at Chigurh’s look in the movie.

  • James Wood of The New Yorker reviews No Country for Old Men the novel and analyzes McCarthy’s style of prose and what it signifies to readers.

  • Matt Zoller Seitz reviews No Country for Old Men and tries to figure out some of the themes that the Coen brothers were trying to explore in this film.

Critical Analysis

What is the title No Country for Old Men supposed to signify? Is the “country” the land of the American Southwest, the United States as a whole, or both? And why do the “old men” no longer belong there?

The country refered to in the title is America as a whole and old men are losing their refuge in the last American frontier because of the progress of modernity. The American West and South West were the last frontiers for America in the early 1900s, around the time that Bell’s father and grandfather were growing up. Land was being claimed and it was a place where a man could roam free on the land he claimed as his. Bell is nostalgic for a time when men would look out for one another and brotherhood was rampant especially in a small town like the one he has to help protect. Instead, he now sees a changed world where neighbors don’t even know who they live next to. Due to the swift stream of modernity starting to hit the country in the 80s, old men were starting to see a new America that was foreign to them. The movie opens with Bell’s narration and promptly cuts off and isn’t heard from again is telling that what McCarthy and the Coen brothers are trying to say, which is he doesn’t belong and there is no more room for him. Bell is an old voice, a patriarch from another time, whose values are no longer valid and seen as obtrusive.

American Splendor (2003)

Analysis of Book

American Splendor was a series of comics written by Harvey Pekar with a focus on the real world instead of the extended fantasy of more common place superhero comics. Seeking to make a comic book for adults, Harvey Pekar draws on events from his life to find the humor and artful drama of an ordinary American life. Through this he  reveals his morose and angry disposition at having a dead end, blue collar job and a life that seems set to mediocrity. The realism presented in these comics proved to be quite popular as more people could relate to the happenings in his routine American life.

Analysis of Film

American Splendor is a sort of biopic on Harvey Pekar and an adaptation of his popular autobiographical comic series. The film itself incorporates several different film styles to stay true to Pekar’s comics. It is part animation, documentary, biopic and adaptation that come together seamlessly to tell Pekar’s story. Animation in the form of comic panels and dialogue bubbles in live action scenes remind people that this movie is based off of Pekar’s several graphic novels, where he pioneered a realist movement. Interview scenes and documentary footage interspersed throughout the movie reveal the directors’ documentarian roots as Pekar candidly explains his inspirations for American Splendor and his other comics/graphic novels. This is a story about an ordinary person just finding the complexity and drama in simple things that happen all the time to most people. His voice over narration of the seeming mundane events that occur in his life reveal Pekar’s deep insight into his view of the world, which turns out to be a gloomy and miserable one sprinkled at times with happy undertones. For all his pessimism though, Pekar reveals a glimmer of hope and optimism when he reflects about the nature of living at the end of the film, “Sure I’ll lose the war eventually, but the goal is win a few skirmishes along the way, right?”

Analysis of Adaptation

The film adaptation of American Splendor stays true to form to Pekar’s original work by mixing genres. The film manages to keep to the themes and overall feeling of Pekar’s comics even though it isn’t a scene for scene accurate copy. The inclusion of comic elements like panels and dialogue bubbles help remind audiences of the roots of the source material. The documentary parts of the film served to provide a backstory to Pekar’s comics and this combined with his voice over narration turns the story into an autobiographical account of Pekar’s life.  It also serves as a way to remind people that Pekar derived all his stories from his own true experiences and successfully draws humor from the series of unfortunate events in Pekar’s life.

Online Research

  • Interview with directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, Harvey Pekar, and Paul Giamatti.

  • Review in New York Magazine.

  • Interview with Harvey Pekar where he discusses his thoughts on the film and how filmmakers handled his material.

Critical Analysis

After reading his comics, some people consider Harvey Pekar a difficult, negative person, while others claim they can see a concerned, compassionate person trying to break out of the kvetch. What did you see? And did you see anything different in the book excerpt as opposed to the film?

Although Pekar’s negative, difficult and morose personality is dominant there are still several instances where he demonstrates that he is a concerned, compassionate person. He is patient, understanding and most of all friendly to Toby and gets defensive when he sees that networks like MTV are exploiting and making fun of Toby and other “salt of the Earth type people.”  A somewhat more noticeable turn around in his negativity seems to turn around when he is diagnosed and treated with cancer. After being close to death, he seems to have reexamined his priorities and tries to do right by Joyce. When he is sick, he sees the joy that Joyce gets from playing with his artist’s daughter so he insists that the artist bring her every time. Although he never gives a reason, there is a subtext that he is doing it for Joyce’s sake because he wants her to be happy. Even though he claims he’s terrible with kids and would never want to have one, he takes in Fred’s daughter after both of her parents aren’t able to care for her.

In his rant on David Lettermen, Pekar demonstrates his compassion for the lower class of America as he talks against the concentrated power of media and government. His compassion and sparse optimism comes out most effectively at the end of the movie when he has this to say about life, “Sure I’ll lose the war eventually, but the goal is win a few skirmishes along the way, right?” In the movie Joyce claims that Pekar had a tendency to keep out the good or happy parts of stories so all audiences ever saw was Pekar as a negative, dark person. I don’t believe that Pekar truly is as morose as he comes off in his work but a fairly balanced person that the public never got to see until it is revealed in this film.

Adaptation. (2002)

Analysis of the Book

The Orchid Thief is a work of creative non-fiction by Susan Orlean, a writer for The New Yorker. The Orchid Thief  started off as an article in The New Yorker about the arrest of John Laroche, a horticulturist and orchid thief from Florida. Laroche and the state of Florida are Orlean’s main focus in this work as Orlean relays her time with Laroche. Nothing too dramatic happens within the span of the book but Orlean’s meandering and meditative narrative provides insights into her life and people’s expectations.

Analysis of the Film

Directed by Spike Jonze, Adaptation is a playful movie that experiments with realism and artistic liberty in movie. There are two stories going on, one about Charlie Kaufman, a screen writer struggling to adapt Orlean’s The Orchid Thief and then another about Orlean’s experience in Florida itself. Charlie’s difficulty writing his screenplay is seen side by side with his finished product as the movie switches back and forth between Orlean at the time of her interviewing Laroche and Kaufman in the present day trying to write a script. It is a self-reflexive movie where Kaufman pokes fun at himself and modern hackneyed Hollywood conventions in screen writing (like the voice over narration and deus ex machina he eventually caves to in his final script). There is an  interesting insight into the writing process with the voice over narration rattling off the frenzied thoughts of Charlie. Kaufman also seems to emphasize the importance of deeply engaging with source material to have a successful film adaptation of written work.

Analysis of the Adaptation

Adaptation embodies the complexities that Orlean’s delves into in her book only with a new story added, that of Charlie Kaufman. Evolution is the central theme in both the movie and the book and it is displayed on film successfully, not only in the way Charlie proposes (his montage of evolutionary stages on Earth) but in the Charlie character himself. In order for his script to work he has to mutate his usual serious, artistic style into somethingthing different so that it can successfully adapt to Hollywood cinema. Although some may claim that Adaptation strays too much from the source material, the movie had to change and evolve into something different so that it’s main message and spirit could translate over entertainment mediums. Orlean herself applauds this approach and agrees that it makes the movie a successful adaptation of her work. Like Tristram Shandy, this movie seems to wrestle with the issue of making an adaptation an artful expression of source material or a shallow Hollywood spectacle filled with overdone plot tools. Kaufman stays true to Orlean’s story and deviates from it at the end when both story lines finally converge physically with Charlie and Donald meeting Orlean herself.

Online Research

  • Blog exploring the central themes of  Adaptation.

  • A blog entry for a film class where the author explores intertextuality and hypertextuality in Adaptation.

  • John Patterson explains how Nicolas Cage’s acting choices make him suitable for the dual role of Charles and Donald Kaufman.

Critical Analysis

Does the voice-over narration in Adaptation work in terms of presenting the interior lives of the characters? Or is it merely a gimmick, as screenwriting guru Robert McKee (a character in the film) suggests?

The use of voice over narration in Adaptation manages to add something significant to the perception of the characters in this film and is not merely a gimmick as McKee suggests. Although in some instances voice over narration is just a writer taking the easy way out, in Adaptation it gave Charlie more depth and made his struggle much more real to viewers. His socially awkward, tormented, and miserable personality is amplified when his scrambled and urgent thoughts are revealed aloud. People who write or have similar struggles socially further identify with his character knowing that they share the same thoughts.

The Hours (2002)

1. Analysis of the Book

The Hours by Michael Cunningham is a heavily internal, stream of consciousness novel that is centered around three women and their struggles with finding satisfaction in life. Readers are given entry into the characters’ thoughts and feelings into whatever predicament they’re in. Readers are able to identify and understand the struggles of these characters. Cunningham touches on the difficulty of living with AIDS during its first outbreak, suicide, and emotional detachment.

2. Analysis of the Film

The Hours is a film that tracks a day in the life of three women from three different times. Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway is what connects these three seemingly unrelated stories and Woolf is one of the central characters herself. As the movie goes on, scenes juxtapose on top of each other to show a connection in the disjointed narrative. Their depression and dissatisfaction with life also connects their narratives and is a central theme of the film. Daldry seems to explore themes of death (suicide in particular), sexual orientation, entrapment (into a certain way of life), the worth of living, and, to a degree, the negative affect of feminine gender roles and politics toward women. The urgency of time seems to be highlighted in this movie as several scenes throughout the movie include the ticking of a clock is a very audible part of the background music or noise. The Hours demonstrates excellent editing that helped keep the back and forth between stories from being too confusing, abrupt, or incoherent, resulting in a fluid story line that comes together well.

3. Analysis of the Adaptation

Daldry’s adaptation of The Hours is successful in that most of the themes expressed in the Cunningham’s novel are translated well into the film. We see the depression and unhappiness in each of the women shine through in the excellent acting of an all star cast. The narrative voice from the book is also preserved in some small degree because of Virginia Woolf’s voice over narration of her thoughts and ideas. If audiences are receptive enough, certain elements of the film such as a mise-en-scene, can help imply what characters were feeling at the moment since it couldn’t be explicitly expressed through narration like in the novel. One such scene is when Virginia Woolf sits in her study with a desk and paper on her lap and books or papers are shown to be strewn about the room is messy disarray. Looking at her surroundings, viewers can get a sense of the chaos going on inside her head as she tackles several thoughts about not only her book but her life. When Laura is in the bathroom crying as her husband beckons her to bed, we see she is in a small room with the door nearly closed, which makes viewers see how boxed in she must feel from her depression and her her husband’s obliviousness to her condition.

But again these things can be noticed if the audience is attentive enough to these details or cares enough to pay attention to these details, which can be a downfall for the movie with certain audiences who are used to more straight forward films. The film has to rely mostly on the audience’s receptiveness for it to be received successfully.

4. Online Research

  • Review from the New York Times where the Stephen Holden points out what scenes or elements of Mrs. Dalloway  is included in Cunningham’s novel and Daldry’s film.

  • Article from Sight & Sound Magazine that talks about Daldry’s intentions when shooting The Hours and Michael Cunningham’s expectations for the novel.

  • Movie review in Journal of Feminist Family Therapy that argues that The Hours addresses and criticizes, with its three main female characters, the role that men and a patriarchal society plays on women with mental illness. He claims that The Hours speaks to the struggles of three women in a society “that tends to ignore and marginalize the experiences of women and their right to speak on their own behalf.” He delves in depth into two particular scenes within the movie that demonstrate this: Virginia Woolf’s scene at the train station with her husband (which criticizes the role of her ever vigilant husband and a medical system that robs her of her own free will) and Laura Brown’s scene at the dinner table with her husband and son (which demonstrates her husband’s emotional detachment to her and its effect).

5. Critical Analysis

The Hours deals in intimate detail with the lives of three women characters. But is it a feminist film? Or does it reflect three distinct kinds or stages of feminism?

All of the women in The Hours fight back against conventional women’s roles in their individual stories.

Virginia Woolf is a woman under the control of her husband and doctors, who dictate where, when, and how she can do things like take walks. This was common for women of that time because once they married, they were seen as basically property of their husbands. At the end of the film, Virginia fights back against what her husband and doctors suggest when she runs away to try and catch a train back to London. What she wants most is to move back to London from the stuffy, dead suburbs and she successfully convinces her husband to let her return, taking control back in at least one aspect of her life.

Laura’s story takes place in 1951, after WWII and when the idea of the suburban nuclear family was the general life everyone strove for. Women were stay at home wives and moms whose duties included watching the kids, cleaning the house, and cooking. Laura does all these things but does not seem to enjoy any of it or be particularly good at it. She seems to be suffering from a depression that drives her to almost kill herself to release herself from what everyone thought were her womanly duties. When Laura decides to leave her family after the birth of her second child, she is breaking free from the role that society has pegged her in as a woman, making a feminist statement against the gender role of that time.

Clarissa’s family structure reflects a degree of modern day feminism. Viewers are led to believe that she conceived her child through artificial insemination. Judging by the mounds of papers shown to be on her desk, viewers can also assume that she is a successful editor and the modern day, urban working woman. She didn’t wait around for a man to establish her family and didn’t halt her career for one. She raised her daughter on her own bucking traditional gender roles by just going out and building a family on her own.

Bride and Prejudice (2004)

1. Analysis of the Book

Pride and Prejudice was Jane Austen’s sardonic and comedic social commentary on upperclass English life in the 1800s, the same time period as the novel’s publication. In this novel, Austen touches on patriarchal marriage politics along with the gender and class disparities present in her time. She pokes fun at the immobility of classes in England and the confinements women faced as a result of their class. Austen centers her story around Elizabeth Bennett, who is supposed to marry Mr. Collins in order to secure her family’s prominence in the English gentry but ends up eloping with Mr. Darcy. Through this novel, Austen highlights the patriarchal and conservative nature of the English upper classes even though more liberal idealogies were emerging in England at the time.

2. Analysis of the Film

Bride and Prejudice is a typical Bollywood movie filled with several musical numbers and a feel good ending. This film tries to explore several contemporary issues such as the effects of globalization, multiculturalism, and to a certain degree, old fashioned marriage politics. Gurinder Chadha’s multicultural background plays a huge influence in the movie’s setting as it takes place in India, Britain, and America. The lack of racial tension and/or discrimination within the film also showcases Chadha’s multicultural identity and tolerance. The overall tone of the film is light hearted, with bright sets, bright clothing, upbeat musical interruptions, and nothing too heavy is made of the issues previously mentioned.

3. Analysis of the Adaptation

Bride and Prejudice tries to reenact Austen’s classical work of literature through an Indian family rather than an English one. It is also in a modern setting as opposed the setting of Austen’s novel in the early 1800s so certain issues presented in Pride and Prejudice, such as gender inequality, does not shine through because of the closing of the gender gap through the centuries. Chadha keeps to Austen’s story line more or less with Lalita Bakshi playing the role of Elizabeth Bennett, William Darcy as Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Kholi standing in for Mr. Collins. Chadha offers a fresh and light version of Pride and Prejudice that has none of the deep and dire consequences presented in the novel (such as the implications of Lizzie eloping with Mr. Darcy). Chadha’s choice of an Indian family is clever because India is a country where social mobility was rigid and marriage arrangements still happen, therefore Chadha can still display the patriarchy and class struggles presented in Pride and Prejudice.

4. Online Research

  • Journal article where Sapna Samant argues that Bride and Prejudice is not real Bollywood but a watered down version of it for western audiences. She also explores the western appeal for Bollywood movies such as Bride and Prejudice.

  • Journal article discussing intertextuality in Bride and Prejudice.
  • An interview with Gurinder Chadha on her experience breaking into Hollywood and how she believed Bride and Prejudice would be recepted in India.

5. Critical Analysis

The character of Mr. Collins in the book is represented by Mr. Kholi in the film. Are they a good match? Why or why not?

Mr. Collins and Mr. Kholi have very similar personalities and characteristics that make Mr. Kholi a good incarnation of Austen’s character. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins is a pretentious man who loves to brag about his less than great status in life and comes off as a little idiotic. In the book, he is a little parody of the shallowness and privilege of the upperclass English gentleman. Bride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Kholi becomes a parody of the Americanization of Indian culture. He is pompous and feels he is privileged because of his “American” possessions and cultural knowledge. He doesn’t seem to care all that much for his native culture or Lalita save for her family’s assets. His over the top, snobbish behavior resonates with the Mr. Collins found in Pride and Prejudice.

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

1. Analysis of the Book

“The Mazarin Stone” is a single scene short story that takes place in Sherlock Holmes’ apartment on Baker Street. This setting doesn’t help readers get a feel of the Victorian London that Holmes is located in but the description of his apartment and its contents helps readers get a feel for Holmes personality. From what is shown through the story, Holmes is an eclectic man with varying interests ranging from music, chemistry, theatre, martial arts, and more. Holmes witty, trickster, and intelligent personality shines through in his dialogue with Watson, Billy and the Count. Doyle seems to explores themes of non-violence, self-confidence, teamwork, and the importance of brains over brawn when trying to deal with justice.

2. Analysis of the Film

Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes offers a fresh take on the literary works that have become iconic in both American and British cultures. Ritchie offers a dark, dirty, steampunk version of Victorian England, which excellent costume and set design helps to make the film feel like an authentic period piece. One of the highlights of the film is the relationship between Holmes and Watson, whose witty back and forth banter is not only entertaining but offers insight into the depth of their relationship as best friends and investigative partners. The inclusion of a new character, Irene Adler, adds more mystery to Holmes’ background prior to the starting point of the movie because of the allusion to a prior romantic relationship that has had a profound effect on the enigmatic Holmes. Adler also gives audiences another bad guy to focus on for a while, blurring for audiences who the antagonist is supposed to be. Slow motion scenes and voice over narration by Robert Downey Jr. give audiences an entertaining insight into Sherlock Holmes mind, revealing the somewhat mad genius that allows him to succeed in this film.

3. Analysis of Adaptation

Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes weaves a tale that is very much in touch with the Sherlock Holmes canon and makes it his own fresh brand of Holmes that can appeal to more contemporary or younger audiences. Ritchie leaves behind the small scale mysteries that Holmes usually solves in Doyle’s stories for something with global implications, making it a more layered work. Unlike the single setting visited in “The Mazarin Stone” this movie is set all over London with multiple antagonists at play and even a couple of subplots for viewers to chew on (Watson’s dilemma over engagement, Adler’s mysterious reappearance in Holmes’ life, and the introduction of Professor Moriarty). Christopher Bahn claims that “some of the most rewarding post-Conan Doyle works are the ones that wrestle with the canon’s inconsistencies and spin fresh tales out of them” and Guy Ritchie achieves this by not shying away from showing onscreen what Doyle merely implied in his stories, which was Holmes’ fighting experience and expertise and the possible romance with Irene Adler. Ritchie’s Holmes may be a lighter character for the sake of a PG-13 rating and may abandon what are thought to be classic lines or appearances, but the eccentricity, intellect, and comedy that readers love so much still appears on screen through Robert Downey Jr.’s characterization of Holmes. Most important of all, we get to see Holmes’ trademark power of deduction and attention to detail save the day in the end.

4. Online Research

  • Trevor Gentry-Birnbaum analyzes how faithful Sherlock Holmes is to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work by comparing the two. He argues that the film picks up on small hints that may not be immediately understood clearly in Doyle’s stories (like how Holmes’ overactive mind may easily be overloaded and become a burden, as shown in the restaurant scene of the film). He observes how the film is authentic in its dialogue because of the inclusion of conversation almost verbatim from Doyle’s stories. Gentry-Birnbaum takes issue though with Sherlock’s appearance in the film as the original work cites Holmes as being over 6 feet tall, hygienic, and possessing discolored skin. He also believes that although Doyle’s work showed instances where Holmes got on Watson’s nerves, it wasn’t to the degree of exasperation as shown in the film so their relationship was not very in touch with the source material. Overall, Gentry-Birnbaum backs up with literary evidence that Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock is very in tune with the man Arthur Conan Doyle created.

  • An interview in Vanity Fair with director Guy Ritchie, where he explains his choice of casting an American actor for such a British role and Holmes’ costume choices. He also talks about how his version of Sherlock Holmes works well with who Arthur Conan Doyle was and his literary version of Holmes.

  • Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is compared to other contemporary versions of Sherlock Holmes in both the TV and movie mediums. Faye comments on why she believes that Ritchie’s action hero Holmes works well with the Holmes that Doyle presented to readers.

5. Critical Analysis

Should Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes remain on the syllabus for this class? Give 3 reasons it should be retained or removed.

Despite what many film critics may believe, this film is very much in the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work and the time it is set in and should remain on the syllabus as it turns into a loaded subject to analyze.

  • This film is not a bad adaptation or reboot of Doyle’s work, it is just not like every other Sherlock Holmes TV show or movie that has come before it. This version appeals to a wider audience and gives Doyle’s classic literary work more exposure to that same audience. Seeing the film in theaters and again for this class piques interest in a classic work of literature. Upon actually reading the stories of Sherlock Holmes, I found it to be in touch with what Arthur Conan Doyle had in mind for his character so it is a good reflection of the source material.
  • The source material and the film are really entertaining to read, which can’t be said for most classic works of literature especially those of the British variety. Most people I’ve come across have a misconception of Sherlock Holmes as being stuffy, high brow, British reading that wouldn’t interest them. Having to read Sherlock Holmes for this class along with watching the movie is a good gateway for getting students into other British literature from the period.
  • The controversy around Ritchie’s version of Sherlock can generate a lot of constructive class discussion outside of just the differences and similarities between the source material and the film. Discussions can go deeper and explore the media, history, and psychology of the Victorian era and our post-modern era. Students can also explore how these factors affect our own modern perceptions of the books and film, which makes discussions on this subject very well rounded and worth while.