Posted by: greercn | December 27, 2012

Midnight’s Children

This sweeping tale of the creation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh follows the children born at midnight on August 14th, 1947, the exact moment of Indian independence from Britain.

Salman Rushdie’s epic novel of 1981 won the Booker Prize. Combining history, magical realism and individual stories, Rushdie wrote the screenplay and narrates, copying the central framing device of the book.

At 147 minutes, it’s beautiful and engrossing, but fragmented and bitty. It’s hard to keep up with and follow.

Maybe another writer could have been more surgical about cutting down some of the words?

Yet there is still much that is grand and perfect here. One of the plots deals with the babies of rich and poor families being exchanged at birth.

The viewer is swept across a whopping chunk of the twentieth century, using the personal stories as symbols that reflect the wider struggles of war and politics.

Each of the children born at midnight has magical abilities. Various cities and characters come and go and you get engaged in their struggles. But as soon as your emotions are involved with a person, you are whooshed away to another place and group.

So, even though it’s a massive cast, I could only follow the stories of a few and can only really remember the tales of the rich boy and the poor boy.

It’s an epic worth seeing. So many of the locations are distinctive and the magical realism scenes are just gorgeous.

The audience at the Stratford Picturehouse all enjoyed it and discussed various scenes afterwards. The very literary and philosophical narration and dialogue give the movie a very real feel for each period in time.

What am I left with? Gorgeous colours and locations. A sense of the complexity of history. Quality of life depends on economic circumstances. Some people have real magic powers. All in all, it’s a gorgeous impressionistic painting of a film that leaves me wanting to reread the book.

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Responses

  1. I think it’s often a mistake (usually in retrospect) for authors to rework their own novels into screenplays for several reasons. As JFK said, the message is the medium; change the medium and the message changes. If you want to impart the same (or at least similar) message through cinema as through a novel, how you tell the story changes dramatically.

    The density of information in a novel can be difficult or impossible to fully impart on the big screen without a lot of wordiness, leading to a longer-than-is-watchable film as the end result. “Watchmen” is both a favourite (graphic) novel and an excellent example of a well done screen adaptation. Despite weighing in at 164 minutes, it is still a well-paced film, due to a great combination of script, direction, acting and editing. There’s still a lot of the book that doesn’t end up on screen and for good reason. If everything that was in the book had ended up on screen Watchmen the film would have ended up twice as long, but probably only a quarter as good a film.

    I’ve not read the book Midnight’s Children, nor watched the film (yet) but I hazard guess that reading the book would take an awful lot longer than 147 minutes. As an author, writing a book is a long, drawn-out process, involving a lot of care and attention along the way. The end result is your very personal baby and most authors probably don’t want what they consider necessary parts of the story lopped off and discarded for the sake of editing and pacing when it comes to making a good watchable film. A more dispassionate eye probably results in a better written script, although I’m sure there may be a few exceptions out there to prove me wrong. Script writing is a different skill to novel writing and I’m not sure there are many who excel at both.

    • That’s a very thoughtful and intelligent comment, David. Thank you!

      • You’re welcome; I always enjoy reading your reviews and I’ll probably go to see both Midnight’s Children and Life of Pi on the strength of what you’ve written about both.


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