Salman Rushdie on Adapting Literature into Film

The challenges of adapting a book for the big screen
Brad Pitt plays the title role in David Fincher's 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
'What is essential? It's one of the great questions of life, and, as I've suggested, it's a question that crops up in other adaptations than artistic ones. The text is human society and the human self, in isolation or in groups, the essence to be preserved is a human essence, and the result is the pluralist, hybridised, mixed-up world in which we all now live. Adaptation as metaphor, to paraphrase Susan Sontag, adaptation as carrying across, which is the literal meaning of the word "metaphor", from the Greek, and of the related word "translation", another form of carrying across, this time derived from Latin.'

Salman Rushdie is featured in today's Guardian newspaper expounding the pros and cons of films based on literary adaptations. In light of a recent spate of Academy Award successes, films using novels and short stories as their source material have become a sure-fire route to critical recognition and box office success. But perhaps that's all hyperbole and overstatement. Rushdie has a few thoughts on the subject.

In a whistle-stop tour of American and European filmmaking of the last 50 years, Salman Rushdie gives examples of some of the finest adaptations the industry has produced, alongside some of the turkeys.

There are instances where films have created brilliant reputations for themselves while still falling short of the original, such as The Dead (based on James Joyce's short story of the same name). On the other hand, Rushdie states 'ridiculous' examples such as David Lean's A Passage to India, which loses the thread of Lawrence's original novel and descends into blasphemy. But the process of adaptation isn't always negative. Rushdie boldly suggests that Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy is superior to the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, a statement that is sure to strike outrage in the hearts of loyal fans of the book, simply because 'Jackson makes films better than Tolkien writes'.

Rushdie summarizes his views on the act of adaptation, and translation from one artistic medium to another, in terms of a political, cultural and social perspective. In terms of 'what is essential, and what cannot be compromised'; He discusses David Fincher's adaptation of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, among a wide range of others. You can read the article in full by clicking here.