First Person Narrative in Books and Movies

I am not a movie reviewer.  I am a not an expert in literature.  I read books and what I enjoy, I enjoy.  What I do not like, I do not like.  Sometimes I know why, sometimes I do not.

This week I decided to watch the movie Remains of the Day because I wanted to compare it with the book. I enjoyed the book and I knew I had previously enjoyed the movie when it came out.  But I wanted a closer comparison (since it has been almost 20 years since the movie was released.)

My short description is that the movie sucked.  It was slow, boring and lost most of the power of the book because it rejected the intentional first person narrative style of the book.  I know lots of people do not like first person narrative in books.  And in movies, first person narrative is difficult unless the character directly engages with the camera or there is a lot of voice over.

However the strength of the book Remains of the Day is that the main character, Mr Stevens, explains his life as he is going on a vacation to go visit the former housekeeper, Miss Kenton.  Steven’s cognitive dissonance about the meaninglessness of his life is palpable.  He knows, but is unable to verbalize the fact that he has continually made the wrong decisions when confronted with the opportunity to either care for the people in his life or care for his employer.

He has determined that there was real value in his service because of the greatness of his employer.  And when it is clear that his employer was not actually great, but instead was really a patsy of the Germans and played for a fool, Stevens has difficulty maintaining his cognitive dissonance.

But in the movie we can only see Steven’s actions.  The fact that he continues to work in spite of the fact that his father is on his deathbed, the fact that he does not stop Miss Kenton from getting married and leaving the house, the fact that he does not confront his employer when it is clear he is being played by the Nazis.

So the lack of first person internal narrative means that the movie loses all of the power of the tension created by the cognitive dissonance.

I am about 2/3 of the way through Silver Linings Playbook.  Again it is a book that is very dependent on the first person narrative in the book.  And while the movie does not take full advantage of the first person narrative style, the audience is much more aware of what is going on internally with the main character than in Remains of the Day.

Although there is a loss in the movie translation of the book because Pat is almost portrayed as weird more than mentally ill.  In the book, the mental illness and his struggles are much clearer and much more powerful.

First person narrative is often thought to be a weaker narrative method because only one character really is fully understood.  The rest of the world is only seen through the eyes of that character.  But that is the way that we see the world.  We can only see others through our own eyes. So it seems to me that first person narrative is where we can learn the most about how the world works.

Any thoughts?

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