October 8, 2012
Mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved: How ‘On the Road’ compares from book to film
Where oh where do I begin?
On the Road, the iconic, much-hyped 1957 novel by Jack Kerouac, is a truly overwhelming, exhausting read.
Perhaps due to the drug-induced delirium of the characters, the story moves at a frenetic, almost hyperactive pace. Through the first-person narrative of the lead character Sal Paradise – who is autobiographically based on Kerouac himself – On the Road constantly jumps from thoughts to actions, thoughts to actions.
The plot is framed out a rambling haze of mismatched thoughts about Sal’s adventures back and forth across America, on an epic road trip “between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”
It certainly is a road trip story, but unlike other ‘journey’ stories, the destination is not the motivation – this story is driven by the things that the characters are running from, or hiding from, or trying to bury deep down inside. The road, and the drugs, and the sex, provide the distraction that each character needs to continue through the pains of their lives.
This is a real fly by the seat of your pants adventure novel. Sal’s self-interested, inner monologue style of voice is a strongly reminiscent of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye.
In adapting this novel to the big screen, director Walter Sailes was certainly bequeathed an epic task.
Paradise is played credibly by Sam Riley. Garrett Hedlund – the actor who plays Dean Moriarty – could well be my new big screen crush. That lovely face and deep velvety voice is perfectly matched to Moriarty and allows him to convincingly get away with a whole manner of sins.
The role of Marylou was a very brave, edgy choice for Kristen Stewart – and one that she was obviously set on. It is believed that Stewart agreed to a salary of less than $200,000 after the film's budget was drastically cut, out of her love for Kerouac’s novel. And it was a good move. Out of an arguably unlikable character, she has managed to craft a sweet, endearing and forgivable character.
Never before have I encountered such a strange mix of oddball characters. Even in the small-bit roles, which went to Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi and Kirsten Dunst, there were multiple opportunities to contribute something bizarre and interesting.
It’s a very confronting film. Some scenes are truly squirm-worthy and uncomfortable, and I warn you, they are not suitable for casual Sunday afternoon escapism. It feels like a long 2 hours and 17 minutes, but it this film is thought provoking, and it does provide some good laughs, so the effort is worth it.
I have to say, I tried to love the book, but it failed to connect with me on a deep level. It didn’t lock me in. But, having now seen the film, I feel as though I understand and appreciate the story more. The film is a useful accompaniment.
Book or Big Screen? Big Screen
The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities
I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.
Coming soon: The Woman in Black