Article 4914 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Fred Haines
Featuring Max von Sydow, Dominique Sanda, Pierre Clementi
Country: USA / Switzerland / UK / France / Italy
What it is: Literary adaptation
A middle-aged man, torn between the spirit and the flesh, plans to commit suicide upon reaching fifty, but meets a woman who steers his life in a new direction.
One of the primary differences between reading a novel and watching a movie is that movies are meant to be watched as a piece from beginning to end at a specific pace, whereas novels may be picked up and set down at will, or read at different paces depending on the time it takes to grasp the themes at play in them. I’ve not read the Herman Hesse novel on which this is based; for that matter, I’ve not read any of his work at all. However, one impression I get from the movie is that the book delves into philosophical and psychoanalytic matters that require a certain degree of time to ponder and appreciate; unfortunately, a movie version doesn’t really give you that amount of time unless you try to swallow the whole thing at once. The movie does a game job of trying to express some of the concepts at play here; there’s an animated section that seeks to explain the concept of the “steppenwolf” (the wild beast within us that is the other side of our natures). Certainly, once you’ve grasped this concept, parts of the movie seem much clearer, even simplistic and obvious. However, as the movie digs deeper, it becomes more of a chore to grasp the relevance of what you’re seeing, and it’s very easy to get lost and confused in the final third of the movie, where the protagonist visits a surreal, non-realistic place called the “magic theater” to open doors to the various parts of his soul. It’s at moments like these where I find it more useful to see the film as a path to the novel rather than as being a stand-alone entity. The film is also hampered by the fact that several major characters have some very thick accents which make it rather difficult to discern what’s being said. The fantastic content revolves around the definite non-realistic manifestations of the story (people disappearing, signs appearing out of nowhere, the symbolic “magic theater”). In the end, I suspect that any chance of really grasping what’s going on here is to go to the book.