I think we can all be pretty honest that most of the film adaptions from our favorite books suck. This is such a tricky transition to navigate, as readers create visualizations in their head that are almost impossible to capture. Fight Club got it right, but most adaptations cannot live up to the story the writer has already created for us. There’s just too much to cover in a limited time.
Right now on Netflix, On the Road started streaming June 6th, and due to the writing style and nature of the story, I was very interested to witness how Jose Rivera (screenplay writer for the Motorcycle Diaries) approached Jack Kerouac’s classic tale of the Beat Generation.
For full disclousre, it has been a few years since I last read On the Road. The quote, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars,” however, seems fully tattooed inside my brain.
After watching the first hour of the movie, I really struggled with the choice of direction. Every other scene turned into a porno, which is fine if that’s what you signed up for, but I thought it was an interpretation that took liberties that didn’t add much to the plot. I didn’t remember that much sex in the book, so I took to the Internet to see if my memory failed me. It turns out, Kerouac included more X-Rated material than any publisher wished to attach their name to. This article from NPR showcases an example of what was published, and what the author originally intended for the audience to see.
So, taking into consideration that the version of the story I was familiar with was a little more watered down, you can make an argument that the film was a truer depiction of the actual novel in terms of the sexual exploits.
When the movie first started, I thought Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) was presented as a poor man’s Tyler Durdin from the aforementioned Fight Club. At times, I thought Brad Pitt was in the movie because of the almost exact same drawl of Moriarty and Durdin. While Kerouac wanted to show that Dean did not abide by standard convention, Moriarty almost seemed other worldly. I think it takes some analyzing to really see what the director was going for, but Walter Salles highlights the rise, decline and fall of the free spirited lifestyle writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) feels drawn to document. Moriarty searches for answers only he knows the question to, and he crams as many immediate pleasures as he possibly can into his restless journey. While he seems invincible at the start of the film, Dean falls to victim to being mortal by the end.
I think Kristen Stewart (Marylou) and Kirsten Dunst (Camile) were solid in portraying the different worlds of Moriarty. We all tend to attach ourselves to trains that never leave the station or take us where we don’t want to go in our youth, and sometimes we just want to follow someone who seems to know where they are going. As a young wife, Stewart represents a care free attitude but deep down, yearns for a solid connection. Dunst sees what Dean could be, but fools herself into thinking he would settle down and that she could change him. After Camile prepares to bring Dean’s second child into the world, she realizes he will only ever care about himself.
Initially, I really don’t like this film. While it captured the aimlessness of the generation and youth in general, the flow of the story was either too chunky or drove by as fast as Dean. After careful analysis, however, I realized that I was able to appreciate this film more than I initially realized. While I still think some of the sex takes away from the storyline, the film adaption was able to capture the possibilities of what the world has to offer while also combining the bleak feeling that we will never reach our true destinies.
I still obviously prefer the book, but I can at least appreciate the film attempt. If you’re like me, you may need a day or two to digest what you just watched. I feel bad for admitting I’ve never checked out any of Kerouac’s other works, so this film at least inspired me to read his other works.
At the most, you might feel inspired to take a road trip of your own. At the least, you’ll see Kristen Stewart’s boobs.