My wife and I have switched roles lately: She used to have a book in her hands regularly, and I couldn’t sit still long enough to read a book. But now her free time is so hard to come by that her best chance of appreciating an author is an audio book while driving to and from work, and now I am making a real effort to read. We have been to several movies at which she at some point said, “That’s not how it was in the book,” or afterwards would tell me details that were different in the book. Recently, it was I that said that line to her.
Early last year, I finished reading Gone with the Wind, and in November we watched the movie at home, the first time I had seen it in almost 30 years. What got me thinking about it yesterday was reading about a farm girl’s visit to the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro, Georgia. The movie opens up with text scrolling on the screen giving the viewer some background information leading up to the opening scene at Tara. I initially said, “That text isn’t from the book,” and then quickly and facetiously amended my comment, with just the right degree of snark, to, “That’s not how it was in the book!”
For the second time last year, I finished a film disappointed, and how could I be disappointed with such a classic!? The first time it was part two in the Hunger Games movie series, Catching Fire. We saw that in the theater just months after I finished the book, and in that case I was disappointed because the movie was too much like the book. I kind of felt like I wasted my money. But for Gone, I felt it was too little like the book. Only a few things noticeably changed, but so much was left out of the story that it just didn’t feel the same at all to me. The book moved me. The film did not.
Consider stopping here if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie and, like me, hate for any significant details to be revealed before you do so. I won’t be revealing any plot twists here or laying out the ending, but I will talk about some of the changes and deletions the film made. The only real significant change I noticed was with Scarlett’s belly: She spent much of the book pregnant with her three children, and in the film has only one. But I can see how her first two would not be considered critical to the story for the big screen, where if something weren’t sacrificed, it would be a six-hour-long piece of cinema.
But some of the unfortnate changes are in the dialogue. There is a scene in which Ashley is telling Scarlett how war has changed him, and it is cleaned up in the film, omitting these highlighted, stomach-churning lines:
“I saw my boyhood friends blown to bits and heard dying horses scream and learned the sickeningly horrible feeling of seeing men crumple up and spit blood when I shot them.”
His juvenile behavior is a bit more forgivable when you understand the cruelties he has lived through.
The film barely touches the madness of war. When Scarlett walks among the wounded lying in the street, it is a much more sobering experience through the novel.
No amount of great film directing can adequately translate some words from a book that are not part of the dialogue. One such excerpt has stuck with me the most, because it was exactly how I felt on a trip to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, years ago. Looking up through the window in the ceiling of the Arizona Memorial, on a beautiful near-cloudless day, I somehow saw that same sunny sky filled with planes, bullets, bombs, fire, and smoke. Paradise lost, as in Scarlett’s Atlanta:
It was unreal, grotesquely unreal, that morning skies which dawned so tenderly blue could be profaned with cannon smoke that hung over the town like low thunder clouds, that warm noontides filled with the piercing sweetness of massed honeysuckle and climbing roses could be so fearful, as shells screamed into the streets, bursting like the crack of doom, throwing iron splinters hundreds of yards, blowing people and anmials to bits.
What the film, and Clark Gable, does best is present the character of Rhett Butler. He has become my new hero, because he tells it like it is. He is the anti-politician. You meet him through novel and film by learning that he isn’t received! The first encounter between he and Scarlett is priceless in both versions of the story. Rhett can be summed up by his attitude in one line:
“You can’t make me mad by calling me names that are true.”
If only we were all so accepting of our flaws, we could move past them.
Finally, I will give credit to the film media for being able to present Rhett’s final line with more passion than text could ever deliver. And yes, one little word was added to the line that in my opinion made it more effective.
“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
The delivery in the film seems to let linger Rhett’s anger, while in the book the line comes across as defeatist.
Had I remembered the film from seeing it so long ago and still not read the novel, I imagine I would consider it a classic but not particularly great. If I had seen it for the first time months ago I am sure I would think more highly of it than that. It is, without question, a brilliant work of art. However, I ask now that if you ever hear anyone refer to Gone with the Wind as a great film, you correct them: It is a great novel, that happens to be an excellent movie, too.