Sometimes, I would love to know what goes on at the meetings and during the discussions that lead to books becoming films. It stuns me, at times, the way screenwriters and filmmakers interpret books, change and mould them, to become new stories. I can't remember, honestly, the last time I was overwhelmed by a good adaptation. But I can reel off a large list of adaptations that screwed up, one way or another, key emotional scenes.
No Country was one -- a scene leading to a character's death in that story, that clearly outlined his motivation, was chopped from the film, and in my opinion dragged it way down. Mystic River was another one -- a character's death that was so powerful in the book it had me sweating while reading it was edited to death in the film, with other scenes intercutting what should have been a focused, singular moment. Romulus, My Father, based on the memoirs of Raimond Gaita, suffered similar treatment. Not only is a character's death left unexplored and underexplained, the very essence of Romulus from the book is completely removed from the film.
I understand storytelling on screen is different, but I can't think of any reason why various parts of Gaita's story were removed, or otherwise altered. I just wanted to yell during the movie, "it didn't happen that way" or "that's not how he said it!". Romulus in the book is giving, caring, always desiring to see his fellow man free of hardship, sometimes to his own detriment. He takes in stray animals, nurses them to health, makes them a part of his growing menagerie. He builds and works with his hands. He reads, and implores his son to read, too. He stands for honesty, morality, truthfulness under any circumstances. But he knows how to have fun, and he gives his son a wonderful life.
Romulus in the film is damaged, seemingly from the outset. Eric Bana as Romulus, always appears sad and broken. We don't see him taking in his animals, or striving to make sure his son is educated. He's certainly a caring father, but it's just... different. I didn't get a sense of the same man in the film that I did in the book. I just saw a desperate man, in love with a woman who did not want him. Then again, Romulus is hardly in the film, with much of it concentrating on Raimond's time with his depressed mother.
One example of the basic problem with the film, for me: in the book, we learn that Romulus treats every living creature with the same respect. He feeds his pets from the table, giving them treats and cakes, simply because they are living creatures deserving of the same pleasures as humans. In the movie, it's Raimond that feeds the dogs from the table. How does that set up Romulus? In the movie, Hora reads to Raimond, and there's no sense that Romulus wants his son to read and learn. In the movie, Raimond's dancing to rock music is used as a way for the kid to expel aggression, in the book, Raimond writes a treatise on Elvis Presley that Romulus finds and it's about a father's fear his son is susceptible to immoral influences.
These alterations, for me, changed the characters, and ultimately, their stories and how I related to them. Again, I'd love to know why the writer and director chose to tell the story this way. Good thing there are commentaries on the DVD -- though I don't think I can come up with reasonable explanations for their choices.
I was ultimately disappointed in the adaptation.