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Friday, January 2, 2009

Book vs. Film: The Color Purple vs. The Color Purple

Primary Differences: With regards to the basic turns of the plot, the film is pretty faithful to the novel. However, when it comes to the complexities of the characters, the film sells the novel short. The film presents things in a very black and white manner, while the novel is all about the various shades of gray which exist in the relationships between the characters.

For The Book: The first person narrative related by Celie through a series of letters cuts straight to the heart. We’re brought directly into her thoughts as she experiences incredible hardship and, every once in a while, moments of supreme joy. The characters created by Alice Walker are so rich and deep that even those who do bad things are not simplified to the point where they can be called “villains.”

For The Film: First and foremost, the film has the absolutely stellar central performance by Whoopi Goldberg. It’s a soulful portrayal completely lacking in vanity; one of the very best ever captured on film. Hers is surrounded by a multitude of other great performances, namely from Margaret Avery and Oprah. Also of note is the film’s beautiful cinematography, particularly during the scene which inspires the title.

Winner: Book. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to see a film that not only focuses on the experiences of people of color, but specifically on the experiences of women of color; but on the other hand, it’s also important to look at the framework within which these experiences are portrayed. The women in this film are portrayed in a way that is nothing but sympathetic, but these portrayals come at the expense of the male characters who are shown in one of two ways: bad and cruel, or good and stupid. The relationships between men and women in the film are universally portrayed as bad, in one way or another, and stripped of the intricacy with which they were granted in Walker’s novel. The relationships in the novel are not nearly so simplistic or cut and dried, even the abusive relationship between Celie and her husband, Mister.

The female characters make the transition from page to screen largely unscathed, but by sacrificing the complexities of the male characters, the film makes them seem less human and robs the story of some of its depth.

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