An Interview with Matt Rager, writer of ‘As I Lay Dying’ and the upcoming ‘The Sound and The Fury’

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Matt Rager is the co-writer, alongside James Franco, of Franco’s As I Lay Dying, an adaptation of the Faulkner novel. [Ed. note: you can read John D’Amico’s review of the film here.] He’s also the sole writer of the pair’s upcoming The Sound and the Fury, also based on the Faulkner book. Recently, we sat down over banana bread and talked about filmmaking:

What’s your background?

I grew up in Bellingham, Washington, which is like an hour and a half north of Seattle, the last real city before the Canadian border. So I was a Northwesterner through and through, then I went to undergrad in Pomona, California, moved out east to New Haven, because my wife—girlfriend at the time—went into the art history program at Yale. I hung out for a couple years in New Haven doing the quasi-Bohemian thing which is, you know, being 23 and pretending to write and not writing. That kind of thing.

We moved back to the west coast to be close to my parents, I got my master’s at Western Washington and I taught community college at Bellingham for a few years. So I kinda thought that was what I was gonna do, then my wife got a post-doc back in New Haven at the Yale Center for British Arts, so I came back again, then I taught for a year at the University of New Haven, at which point I realized I was getting paid less to teach a full load than the Ph.D. stipend would be back at a place like Yale.

I luckily got in at Yale, and it just happened to be the year James [Franco] was there. We were kind of the weird outliers; we were the old ones at the time.

How did the project start?

We were in the same classes, and Yale is, as one would expect, still very traditional for the most part in terms of the English lit Ph.D. There’s a lot of scholars of Shakespeare, Milton, Romantic poetry, that sort of thing. I was kind of the outlier because I got in on doing mostly contemporary stuff, media studies, media theory, so I was the only one [doing that] really, and James. I introduced myself through that: “I heard we like the same books.” And we just started talking through that.

He’s a big fan of the Modernists, right? He did that Hart Crane one, The Broken Tower.

Yeah, he’s a big fan of the Modernists but he’s also really into experimental contemporary stuff too. He wrote his entrance essay on House of Leaves, which is one of my favorite books. We had a lot of overlap there. So we started talking book stuff mostly, and then as far as creative stuff goes we connected on the fiction side more. At the time I was just a wannabe fiction writer, mostly. So we traded stories and did that kind of stuff, and then somewhere along the way he asked, “Do you write scripts?” and I was like “Sure,” which meant that I had started a bunch and never finished them. As one does.

So we started working on a few things. None of those have come to fruition yet—he’s always working on 20 projects at once. In the midst of that, he told me about his plan to do As I Lay Dying. At some point he sent me the script he had written and asked for feedback, and I wrote a long-winded, over-theoretical, probably overwrought response. Didn’t hear about it for a long time, until I was talking to Vince [Jolivette], his producer and best friend, and I asked “Do you know if James ever read my notes?” Because the way it works with him is, he’s just doing so many things, he gets hundreds of emails a day, things get buried.

Vince was like, “I don’t know, but can you send them to me because we’re dealing with the script right now.” A couple days later, I get a response: “We really like your notes, do you want to take a stab at it?” And I was like “Sure,” not knowing exactly what that means. So I did my revision up, and that’s the one they ended up using.

What’s the difference between yours and the first draft?

The main thing was his version was long. Because it’s his favorite book, and he has this very personal connection to it, so he really wanted to do justice to it, which is good, but a lot of that then slid into him wanting to put in everything from the book. My job was more to imagine this as a film, as a more narrative art, and really look at what sort of information do we need, what can we cut, how many of the peripheral characters can we have—that sort of stuff. The big thing was, I obviously love Faulkner, but he’s not my sacred cow, he’s not my guy, so—

Who is?

I just skew more to the contemporary. I love David Foster Wallace, I love Infinite Jest. I love Murakami, David Mitchell, those kind of guys.

Faulkner for me was always more academic, which enabled me to be the one to cut things. “Let’s get rid of these side characters, let’s cut this down, let’s only have 30 seconds of Anse doing this thing…”

See, that’s interesting to me because, viewing you as a contemporary lit person, the film felt like it wasn’t approached like a period piece. Would you say that’s accurate?

I think that’s partially budget constraints. Certainly visually, stylistically, it doesn’t have the traditional markers of that.

Yeah, like the Redford version of Great Gatsby where everything’s slow, all shot in tableaus.

Yeah, and one of the things we talked a lot about was what happens with a lot of period pieces and adaptations in general—because they become canonized, they become sanctified in this weird way that doesn’t do justice to what the book actually was like. Which is why I don’t know if I thought the recent Great Gatsby remake was totally successful, but it’s clearly trying to get at the sort of effective feel of the novel. That is the thing that everybody loses when they treat it like it’s this piece of sacred literature. No, it’s about people partying, and drunk, and going crazy.

And we tried to do that with the Faulkner too. Thinking, you know, it’s disjointed and fractured, but it’s also gritty and dour and angsty and weird, and those are all the things you sort of try to prioritize, knowing that there’s no way that you can convey everything from the book. But you try to get what, to you, is the essence of the novel, what you want to convey. And then the question is, how do you even go about conveying that visually in a film versus what it’s doing on the page? Especially because, as everyone notes, what makes Faulkner matter is the language. And you’re never going to be able to fully translate the language, but you want to try and come up with some sort of visual representation of that.

Faulkner has this very particular sense of time. Time as something mutable, and it’s interesting to see the ways you tried to convert that into cinema.

Exactly. Yeah. We’re doing The Sound and the Fury right now, which is even more complicated on the time scale, which is a fun challenge.

How far along is that?

We just wrapped principal photography in January. We’re done. We shot a couple weeks in Mississippi in September, and a couple weeks in LA in January.

You said you did some fiction writing before—has this begun to jumpstart you?

Well it was kind of weird doing the academic stuff and then doing this on the side. Especially with As I Lay Dying, there was this sense that, ‘oh, that was fun, but you know, it might’ve been a one-off thing’. But now with Sound and Fury, I’m the sole credited writer, and now I have two. Now I have a manager and stuff. There’s some possibilities. It’s in that weird position.

So you’re doing—I don’t want to give it away—but it’s gonna be the whole… saga of the family?

Yeah, I don’t want to give it away and I don’t want to make any claims before it’s out there, but it’s almost like, we tried to treat it like three short films. Well, not that short. But three discreet sections, because each has not only their own relation to time, but this time we tried to emphasize—well, I didn’t have much say in it, but I’m glad they did it—a different visual style for each section. Color scheme and things like that.

Whether or not all those details will make it into final cut, we’ll have to see, but that’s what we’re going for.

You were on set for both of these?

For AILD I was actually teaching a class at Yale and studying for my oral, so I was only there for a weekend. But then for S&F I was there for the whole time, which was a lot of fun. It was good because that novel’s even more difficult to parse and also… I mean James knows S&F well, but he knows AILD like the back of his hand. He essentially has that novel memorized.

Whereas with S&F, because I did the draft myself, I was the only one who had spent that much time with the book. I wasn’t originally planning to be down there the whole time, but then a couple days before shooting they were having meetings doing the thing where they’re like “Wait, where is that in the book?” and trying to go back and realizing it was diffracted in like 9 different places, and saying “Maybe Matt better be here.” Which was fun, it was fun hanging around on set.

But also I got a chance to do a lot of sort of small-scale rewrites as we were going. Especially in Mississippi, because we found this cool old mansion to work as the Compson house. All the interior house stuff I had tied pretty closely to the novel, but then all of a sudden you have to rearrange things when in the one scene it’s all about them coming up and down the stairs and walking into the kitchen, but actually the kitchen’s over there—and you know it’s all those sort of things that are mostly logistical issues, but then actually dictate changes in the script. So yeah, it was fun.

There are a couple of those in AILD that really struck me—like the “My mother is a fish” chapter that, in the text is a really complicated roundabout explanation, and in the film, you explain with that image of him trying to lift the fish but it’s too big.

Yeah that’s the kind of thing we wrestled with a lot—both in how much can you convey in those singular images thematically, but also plot-wise. Because, as you know, in the novel, there’s this whole long thing where (and this is why you can tell I didn’t mind cutting it—“whole long thing”) he runs down to the Tulls’, and he’s out in the rain, and he knocks and then they bring him back up, you know, they’re back and forth. As far as the script goes, in a lot of ways my main goal was we just gotta get her [Addie Bundren] dead sooner so they can get on the road. Because even in the book, it doesn’t happen until like page 100, and it’s only a 200 page book. So on the one hand, trimming some of those, but then still trying to keep those sort of iconic lines from the book. Which I think works because the whole thing is that the most iconic lines from the novel are the ones that are so difficult to parse – these weird standalone chapters and these things that you don’t know quite what to make of, and we didn’t want to over-explain those.

It’s funny, there are certain elements of the book that I have more of an appreciation for now after having seen actors perform it, and the big one for me is Cash’s list of the 13 steps involved in making a coffin. That’s one of those ones that I knew all the standard interpretations for it, what it said about his character, but I only had a sort of didactic understanding of it.

Yeah because when you look at it on paper, it’s just a list. No matter how you…

Yeah, and when you’re sitting in your intro lit class and they explain it to you, you just sort of go, ‘ok, that’s kind of cool,’ but I think that’s actually my favorite scene from the movie now. Because I just love Jim’s performance of it so much. And I watched that clip so many times.

It feels really cinematic, how much he’s trying to hide.

Exactly.

Which is interesting because have you ever taken a look at the screenplay work Faulkner did?

I know about his career in Hollywood and all that but I haven’t actually gone through the scripts he wrote.

Leigh Brackett said not a word Faulkner ever wrote made it on screen, because he would just write Faulkner.

I could see that. Even in this version, a lot of the lines are almost word-for-word from the book, but even so you’re trying to uncrinkle it so there’s only two or three turns in each sentence instead of six or seven. Which is funny because I noticed some of the reviews and stuff, people hear it as word-for-word. Some people liked it, but some people complained about the thick Southern accents. But it’s like, oh no, no, no—that was a middle-of-the-road take on the dialogue.

That must’ve been so hard for the actors, those accents. Because they almost don’t even exist anymore.

Exactly, they don’t exist. And now we have the gentrified southern accent that people know well. And then there’s this sort of generic southern accent, rural accent.

The Walking Dead accent?

Exactly. And that was one of the best things about filming in Mississippi, is that a decent amount of the crew and stuff—I mean, some of them were locals hired along for the gig, a lot of them worked out of New Orleans, but a surprising amount of them had Mississippi roots. And so they would, every once in a while—usually to me because obviously they don’t want to butt their way in there—say, “Actually, the way they’d say it was…”

And Tim Blake Nelson is amazing. He came with that whole thing worked out like that.

Doing it in Mississippi, did it feel like there was a sense of ownership? Did it feel like they still responded to Faulkner?

Definitely. You’d be surprised. I was, at least. It’s just crazy to imagine, because he’s such an icon, it’s standard reading in all those high schools and stuff and, what did you get out of that? Most schools, it’s not uncommon for AILD to show up on a high school syllabus but I mean, most of them have read a lot of Faulkner, even though a lot of them are also like “I didn’t understand a word of it.”

But there is a strong sense of ownership, and a strong sense of Southern literature both historically and contemporary. When we were in Greenwood, Mississippi—that’s where we shot for S&F—there was this cool little bookstore there with a huge southern lit section with all the contemporary authors. So there’s this strong sense of ownership. But they’re also very positive about the whole thing. And I think a big part of that was that we were shooting it down there, which they liked.

S&F gets into some of the racial stuff that AILD doesn’t really touch on.

Yes. One of the things I’m really excited for about S&F is, as much as I love AILD, the film and the book, the novel works against itself in so many ways, always undercutting itself. It’s an epic quest in which the quest is shown to be futile. It’s a family drama in which no one talks to each other, about a bunch of people who can’t articulate what they want to say. Which is cool and such a challenge, and also, stuff like the deep poverty of the rural south at the time, it’s all great to work with but also a little limiting at the end of the day. So with the Compson house and family, both, you get that sort of aristocracy, the faded gentility of the family, but then you also have the other relationship with their servants, Dilsey and her family. You have a lot more of the town, interacting with more people, and also the different temporalities. And the art department loved it, because you got to dress the entire house for 1900 when it’s still—well, they’re going downhill at that point, but it’s not the decrepit house of 1928.

Ahna [O’Reilly, Dewey Dell in AILD and Caddie in S&F] said she spent all of AILD in one dirty dress, whereas this, there’s a lot more involved in costume. It might feel like more of a period piece in that sense, but I don’t think so since it’s pretty weird also. As far as the visuals of it, you get more of a sense of the history in a way.

There will be more of a tonal range. In a lot of ways, the bleak parts are bleaker, because the tragedy of AILD is none of them can articulate what they want to say so it comes out in these small gestures, but in S&F there’s a lot more drama. People articulate what they want. They yell, they cry, that sort of thing.

And even Quentin out of context into what’s practically a Fitzgerald novel, there’s something so poignant about how alone he is out there.

Big challenge in the Quentin section is that in the novel his mind is just racing, racing, racing, and he can’t stop and everything is running over each other, and it’s all language overflowing his conscious experience. But at the same time, aside from in the flashbacks, he barely speaks. So you’re trying to convey his emotional turmoil with his sort of elegiac, stoic acceptance.

There’s the extended looping conversation slash dream flashback he has with his father, where his father gives him all his philosophies, but as far as actual external dialogue, other than in the flashbacks, it’s just mostly when the little girl shows up.

Scott Haze is Jason, which is a lot of fun. He’s really, really good.

That’s a rough character.

You see him sort of represented in the town, and you don’t exactly sympathize with him necessarily because he’s still just an asshole, but you empathize with the sense of impotence he has. You understand why he yells at his servants when he’s at home, because when he’s out in the world, no one takes him seriously.

Was there no temptation to put some of the characters from AILD in and do an Avengers thing with Yoknapatawpha County?

Well, we would have, except that gets ruptured by the fact that we somewhat inadvertently ended up doing something more like the old Shakespearian Company model, because there’s a lot of the same people but just in different roles.

One of the things that we tried to think about as far as the through line is that, in a weird way, it’s Caddie’s story. Seeing her through Benji’s eyes, then Quentin’s and Jason’s.

[Desperately trying not to spoil the novel] So then you really have to, I guess, deviate? To give her lines. You have to put yourself in that Old South writing style.

But also I feel like in this one, again, someone who only has a passing familiarity with the novel will think it’s almost exactly like the book, but we deviated more often in order to fill out the world a little bit, and also because of the problematic politics, such as the racial politics, which you don’t want to smooth over but you also want to present in such a way that it’s…

Palatable?

Yeah. Yeah, basically.

I read an article that called Franco a “polymath”, and I thought that’s ridiculous, and then it popped into my head that he did this and This Is the End the same year. And then I thought maybe in a limited, artistic way, that’s not a bad description.

And Spring Breakers.

I loved Spring Breakers.

Me too. I didn’t know what to expect going in.

What’d you think of This Is the End?

I loved how funny it was, and, this is sort of the writer in me, I loved that they actually managed to carve a narrative out of it from beginning to end. So many comedies, even good comedies, do this thing where the first 40 minutes are hilarious and then you can see them go ‘oh crap, I guess we need to finish this now’. And then they have some crazy hijinks, and usually with the action plot, you lose the comedy in the last 40 minutes.

Like why Ghostbusters works and Stripes doesn’t.

Yeah, but you hear more people offhandedly talk about the genius of Stripes, and it’s probably from the TBS version of watching it, where you’re clicking through and you see 30 minutes and say, ‘oh my god, this is hilarious’, and then click away again before you realize it’s just that chunk that’s funny.

This is one of things we tried to deal with in AILD, too. One of the things I disagreed most with in some of the reviews is the idea that ‘the book is ironic and funny, the movie’s not ironic and funny, therefore he didn’t get the book’. And it’s like, one, I think the irony’s there. It’s not laugh out loud funny, but the book’s not laugh out loud funny. The irony in the book is there, but it’s never performative—it’s never experienced in the scene itself, it’s only experienced in the retroactive act of reading itself. You read a chapter, and then you read the next chapter and you see it from a different perspective, and then you go back and go, ‘oh, I see it’.

The last scene is essentially a punchline to the whole thing.

Yes, and there’s also that idea of when you are suddenly presenting the characters visually, you want to not treat them like caricatures or jokes, you want to treat them as fully-rounded characters, so perhaps at times some of that humor was lost, but it was lost in service of making sure some of the characters were treated with dignity. I feel like that happens a lot in S&F too, with some of the stuff with Dilsey and her family.

There’s the question of Dilsey’s section in the end, right? In some ways, it’s the most beautifully written section, and it’s giving her final say and it’s this moment of grace, yet at the same time it’s the only one not in first person. She’s not given a voice. She’s not given an interior life. Or, you could argue that’s a form of respect or—I don’t know. But all those theoretical questions come up in the process of writing.

I guess there’s no hiding from that in a movie.

But at the same time, there’s more room in those small moments to present the character with dignity, to give them the screen in a way.

Have you seen any of the other Faulkner adaptations out there, like The Story of Temple Drake or Intruder in the Dust?

No, no. All of that—especially with an academic background, my first instinct was, “I’ve gotta see all of that, I’ve got to read all of that,” but then my intention went the other way. It’d be paralyzing.

The only one I started was the old Sound and the Fury, the 1953 one. It’s the craziest movie. It doesn’t make a lick of sense. It’s Yul Brynner as Jason Compson, but he doesn’t even try to do a southern accent. He’s just Yul Brynner. And they just do crazy things with the story. So I watched like five minutes of that and was like, “I’m alright. We won’t do that to it.”

When you write about contemporary stuff, so often people are interested in newness for newness’ sake, and the argument that ‘this has never been done before’. What I’m more interested in is that constant oscillation. There are a lot of arguments about Modernism in general, and Faulkner in particular, about the roots of his whole project, and one of the ways that you can read it is that in a lot of ways, his work is about the emergence of film. It’s all about him then both thinking filmically in literature, and then also trying to move into those realms—the interiority, the stream of consciousness, the multiplicity of perspective—that, especially back then, the fixed camera couldn’t do. Which of course the irony is that while he was trying to do that, he was writing those screenplays. Seemed much more successful on one end of the spectrum than the other.

One of the only successful Faulkner screenplays was To Have and Have Not, the Hemingway adaptation. His big rival.

That’s interesting because on the one hand, there’s the sort of practical side of when you have your arch-rival’s book, ‘Ha ha ha, I have my rival’s book’, but on the other hand, maybe there is something about the antithesis of styles. If you gave Faulkner a blank slate for a script, he would push it into his way of doing things, which didn’t always translate, and if you take Hemingway’s way of doing things, which didn’t always translate, maybe it ends up somewhere in the middle.

We’ve danced around but haven’t addressed yet this idea of Faulkner being ‘unfilmable’. Which always struck me a meaningless term. Why do you think that’s a thing?

That’s a good question. You could probably do a book or at least an academic article about the whole institution of this idea of unfilmablility in Modernist literature. As is always the case, it’s certain people’s vested interest in holding these stark lines. But the degree to which we hold onto that—I mean, back then so much of it probably had to do with the distinctions between high and low culture, and the fact that film wasn’t taken seriously as an art. It’s this literary argument that literature does something different that’s embedded in the language.

But my answer to that would be, ‘well, of course!’ Of course you’re not going to translate that directly. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a quality film out of that. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a film that doesn’t capture the same effective experience as reading the book. We try to really embrace the idea that adaptation is always translation. It’s always, you know, if you’re translating a poem from another language—and poetic translation is such a creative act—you’re writing a new poem. There’s never a one-to-one mechanized algorithmic method. But in some ways, it just seems like a fun opportunity. And it’s a challenge, a freeing challenge, because you know you’ll never get it all. But the things you know you won’t be able to get are the things you can come up with stylistic analogues to.

It’s very different from things like Lord of the Rings or something, where when there’s things you can’t get, it means that you have to cut down the plot, basically. These subcharacters and subplots that, for the fanbase, these are the things that make Tolkien Tolkien, right? Whereas with Faulkner, it’s the language, it’s the philosophy. And you can come up with analogues, with translations. And that searching for different stylistic approaches to try and approximate it is part of the fun.

The unfilmable thing even as a rhetorical move is just so fascinating, having been through this process, both writing them and just being on set seeing the movies get made. It’s all attributed to one person, but you see hundreds of people doing their jobs and making choices, and sometimes, it’s practical logistics that get in the way. One review, an academic journal, identified these two scenes, key scenes—actually it just puts a lie to what I was just saying before, because for this person, the keys were these plot-based things. Anyway, it was these two scenes, and if you didn’t have them, you didn’t understand the book.

Well, one, I radically disagree with that as a mode of analysis. And two, I don’t agree with that, in that particular case. But the other thing is, both of those were things we shot that, for other various practical reasons, didn’t work. In one, the performances and sound just didn’t come through. The other worked great as a scene, but narratively just killed the drive of the latter half of the movie.

I’m a big believer in, for example, ‘why not remake movies?’ Why not remake movies five years after? Embrace the idea that each one is just a different interpretation. So, offer a new interpretation of it.

You actually didn’t include my favorite scene, Vardaman drilling into the coffin to make air holes. I’d love to hear why. [MAJOR SPOILERS FROM HERE UNTIL THE END]

We did film Vardaman drilling into the coffin—it worked as an individual scene, I thought, but the main reason it didn’t make the cut is that it threw off the timing of the sequence from Addie’s death to the funeral to the family loading the coffin into the wagon. There are several key scenes that happen in the wake of Addie’s death—Dewey Dell and the dead fish, Anse by Addie’s bedside, Cash seeing her dead and continuing to build the coffin. Something had to go, and so we had to make the tough choice of cutting what is undeniably an iconic part of the book.

What were the two scenes that person thought were the keys to the book?

When Anse steals money from Dewey Dell and when they come across the African American sharecroppers outside of Jefferson.

We did film the Anse scene, and it was powerfully acted—on its own it is a great scene – but it totally disrupts the rhythm and tone of the final Jefferson scenes, and it removes any last ambiguity about Anse’s character. He’s clearly the villain, at that point. We thought that omitting it left open the ambiguity as to whether we should read Anse as a conniving villain or a sympathetic fool. Again, this isn’t to say that another person’s (even if only imagined) interpretation couldn’t opt to make a different choice—my argument is that an exclusion should be read as an interpretative choice, and not dismissively read as a failure to understand the book. That mode just seems so much more productive and interesting to me than the incessant desire to render a summary judgment.

The second scene was the one in which, as they approach Jefferson, Jewel and Darl walk by the African American sharecroppers and get in a fight with the white guy who draws a knife on Jewel. Yes, the scene is the only direct reference to race in the entirety of AILD, so I understand its significance (eliding, momentarily, the problematic academic move of reading rarity—especially in canonized literature—as inherently significant). But the scene doesn’t work filmicly for the precise reason that it works on the page. The sudden appearance of the African Americans, which is effectively jarring in the novel, feels like a random disjuncture when visualized, as if we suddenly crossed into a different storyworld altogether.

This feeling of disorientation could, of course, be read as precisely Faulkner’s point, but we felt that, when played on film, the disorientation didn’t have that sense of purpose, especially to a viewer unfamiliar with the book. You can imagine it: ‘Oh, so I guess Franco suddenly remembered, 90 minutes in, that there were black people in the south?’

Especially as it comes so near to the end of the film when we were trying to build movement from the barn burning into the final Jefferson denouement. While that scene, on its own, is one of my favorite Darl scenes because he stands up to the stranger while simultaneously getting Jewel to stand down, I’m ambivalent about how it fits into the trajectory of the rest of the novel. We see Darl at his most sane, moments before he is carted away to the insane asylum at Jackson. One way of reading this is as being deliberately ironic, that Darl, as the only sane one, is judged as mad by the others, but this reading is then undercut in the novel by Darl’s final scene in which he has, apparently, gone quite mad.

What makes Faulkner of such academic interest is, of course, precisely this ambiguity and seemingly counter-intuitive progression. But unfolding on screen, the whiplash between Darl as sane arbitrator and Darl being carted off to Jackson only confuses things. An adaptation of a novel like this must constantly attempt to walk that line between effective ambiguity and ineffective confusion.

You could imagine a version of the film that focuses on Darl exclusively, allowing the other characters to fade into the background. That version might have the space and time to delve further into these ironies and contradictions, and it probably would be a more nuanced portrait of Darl, yes, but at the expense of the rest of the family.

As a big Jewel fan, that would disappoint the hell out of me.

Another complaint was that we didn’t include the explanation of the work and sacrifice that went into Jewel getting his horse. True, we didn’t, but can you imagine what that would have entailed? Either a five-minute flashback, two-thirds of the way through the movie, dealing with him clearing fields and saving money—or lengthy exposition. Neither option is particularly compelling from a dramatic point of view. We could have done this, but instead we attempted to, throughout the movie, visually convey his almost primal bond with his horse, rather than relying on backstory and exposition.

Critics can say ‘should have done X’ without actually stopping and imagining what this new version of the film would actually look like, not taking into account the reality of the counterfactual they proclaim as superior. I think this is such an interesting topic because the emphasis on considering what wasn’t included as an inherent error encapsulates the issue of reading adaptations as a one-to-one comparison of book vs. movie, rather than treating the film as an interpretation of the book.

Viewing a movie as an interpretation means treating elisions and alterations as choices, and the discussion of those choices becomes the starting point of a discussion about the book, the film, and the process of adaptation more generally, rather than being the concluding point of a summary judgment. For me, all of this has less to do with any specific response to this particular film, and more to do with what I find most interesting from a scholarly/critical side—the process of adapting from one medium to another as a means of opening up new ways of thinking about a familiar text.

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