Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Best Film Adaptations of Banned Books

When I sat down to watch the French animated film Persepolis, released in the United States in 2007, I had no idea the emotional journey it would take me on. 
A scene from the excellent 2007 film adaption of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.
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This adaptation of Marjane Satrapi's comic on coming of age during the Iranian Revolution had me riveted from start to finish, and it evoked a range of feelings. As the end credits rolled, I was so moved that I bought the books Persepolis and Persepolis 2, eager to devour the source material.

I'm sure Persepolis is one of the rare films adapted from books that has exceeded the expectations of fans of the books. The Persepolis comic series has also been routinely challenged or banned based on its content, which makes its translation to the big screen all the more daring and important. However, it is just one of a number of banned books that have been successfully brought to the silver screen.

On the occasion of Banned Books Week, Kristin Fritz has recognized other banned titles that have been adapted into films with great success. In "Banned to the Big Screen: 10 Great Banned Books Adaptations," her article for Word & Film, she highlights the best of these cinematic translations. Among them is To Kill a Mockingbird, based on the 1960 novel by Harper Lee. "In spite of many efforts across the world to ban Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, it has sold more than thirty million copies," says Fritz. "The 1962 movie adaptation, starring Gregory Peck, Brock Peters, and Robert Duvall, won three Academy Awards and was nominated for an additional five." Indeed, To Kill a Mockingbird is an immensely powerful film that does the book great justice.

Fritz also calls attention to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which originated as the 1962 novel written by Ken Kesey. It focuses on a group of male patients at a psychiatric hospital in Oregon, and the story of their lives at the facility is told from the perspective of Chief Bromden, a fellow patient who is Native American and is assumed to be deaf and mute. The central character is Randall Jack Murphy, who is faking insanity to avoid a prison sentence. According to Fritz, the novel "has been called 'pornographic' and 'garbage.' Milos Forman brought the book to the screen in 1975 with an adaptation starring Jack Nicholson, Will Sampson, and Louise Fletcher. It won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actress, and Best Lead Actor." Having seen the film more than once, I can say that it definitely merits all of the accolades.

In addition to To Kill a Mockingbird and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Fritz mentions other stellar movies based on banned books, including Where the Wild Things Are, the 2009 film adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic 1963 children's picture book; The Lord of the Rings movies, first brought to the big screen in 2001 and based on the epic fantasy trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien; and Easy A, the 2010 film whose inspiration was The Scarlet Letter, the 1850 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

For a complete list and detailed description of each of the banned books that Kristin Fritz recognizes as being deftly adapted to the big screen, see her article "Banned to the Big Screen: 10 Great Banned Books Adaptations," at THIS LINK.

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