(fr) wrote: Mister Pip and Mr. Pip: The Increase in Beauty Through AdaptationSPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT***The following essay contains spoilers about both the novel Mister Pip and film Mr. Pip. Proceed at your own risk! *** Utter shock. Then sadness. Then the question, "How can human beings treat others so barbarically?" repeating over and over in my mind. Those are the feelings and thoughts that the climax of the film Mr. Pip evokes. The 2012 film is based on the 2006 novel Mister Pip by New Zealander author Lloyd Jones. The story is told by Matilda, who recounts the events that happened to her and other villagers on the small island of Bougainville in the South Pacific during the civil war around the year 1990. Reading the novel Mister Pip, one gains an appreciation for dynamic literary elements that are inherent in the form of a novel, such as the repetition of linguistic symbolism to form a motif that enhances the depth of the story's meaning, and the diction suited to a first-person narrator. Comparing the novel to its adaptation in film, one realizes that the film adaptation is both an original telling of a new story and a modified telling of someone else's original story. Examining how each work is both unique yet related to the other, one finds differences between a novel version of a story and a film adaptation of that story, and one arrives at an understanding of why people feel that books are better than movies, and vice versa. An examination of symbolism and narrative point-of-view, which are employed in different ways in the novel and its film adaptation, illustrates how the open-ended quality of a novel's linguistic narration involves more of the reader's imagination in the creation and experience of a story world, whereas a film's pictorial narration involves less of the reader's imagination in the creation and experience of a story world. Though different story experiences result from the novel and the film, one still sees how a film adaptation of a novel can complement the artistry of the novel and result in an overall increase in the beauty of the story as it goes on to live in the reader's and viewer's mind.Because novels employ primarily linguistic narration and films rely primarily on pictorial narration, the novel Mister Pip employs its symbolism differently from the film adaptation of the novel. The novel, for example, employs the keyword "pip," a word which figuratively unlocks meaning in different ways throughout different parts of the story.To analyze the function of the word "pip" in the novel, one must first understand several different definitions of the word "pip." Definitions of the word "pip" include the following: a small, hard seed of a fruit; an excellent or very attractive person; a small shape or symbol; any of the spots on playing cards, dice, or dominoes; a single blossom of a clustered head of flowers; a diamond-shaped segment of the surface of a pineapple; an image of an object on a radar screen; a star on the shoulder of an army officer's uniform; a disease of poultry or other birds causing thick mucus in the throat and white scale on the tongue; a young bird cracking the shell of the egg when hatching; to defeat an opponent by a small margin or at the last moment; and to hit or wound (someone) with a gunshot.That the word "pip" has so many meanings, some of which seem unrelated to the other meanings, but all of which tend to generally be related to the idea of something small that is distinct, makes it a keyword that offers significant potential as a symbol. The many meanings of the word "pip" reveal how a novel can achieve layered symbolic meaning through linguistic narration. By employing the word "pip" as a keyword, that is, a word with symbolic meanings that can be interpreted in various ways, the author involves the reader in the creation and experience of the story differently from how the filmmaker involves the viewer.In the novel the significance of the word "pip" as symbolic is revealed through the course of Matilda's narration. Characters, events, and ideas in the story connect to the multiple meanings of the word "pip." It is fair to say that Lloyd Jones, the author, intends for the reader to access the symbolic meanings suggested through the novel's consistently repeated literal and figurative instances of different kinds of pips. Moreover, it is clear that the film also incorporates symbolism related to the idea of a "pip," but to a lesser extent.The idea of a "pip" becomes a motif in the story that Matilda tells. The most significant example of the symbol of a "pip" in the novel is Matilda's description of the moment that Mr. Watts begins reading Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations aloud to Matilda and the other kids. In the very beginning of Great Expectations, the pronunciation of the name Pip is revealed to be the innocent mistake of a child. Additionally, "Pip" is not the full truth, per se, because the protagonist's full name is not Pip but rather Phillip Pirrip. Here the accidental but fitting name Pip suggests the way that one's identity is both something controlled by an individual, yet beyond one's own control. Although the character Pip chooses how to identify himself to others by choosing what name he uses, he cannot control the fact that he is an orphan, nor can he really control what his original name was, nor can he really control so many other unpredictable aspects of his life. Yet Pip, through the act of storytelling, can control how--of if--he wants to present the truth about his life.The character of Pip reveals that a person must struggle to come to terms with hard truths about his or her own personal life. Both Mr. Watts and Matilda face this struggle in their own ways. Mr. Watts's full backstory, which is pieced together for the reader as Matilda tells the story, involves a failed marriage and his experiencing of the death of his infant daughter in his new marriage. This is a difficult story for Mr. Watts to relate accurately to others. Mr. Watts struggles to be a role model for the kids he is teaching, yet he is unable to openly present the full truth about himself, even to Matilda, with whom he forms a close bond. It is not until she travels to London that Matilda understands Mr. Watts's backstory to a fuller extent, and it is ironic that she understands larger truths about Mr. Watts's life only after he is dead and is no longer around to tell stories about himself.Matilda also struggles to come to terms with hard truths about her own life. The interesting thing about Matilda's storytelling is that it constitutes the full story of the novel Mister Pip, and as such, all of the other characters are presented through Matilda's filter, so to speak. Mr. Watts, her mentor, has made an impact upon her not only through his passion for Great Expectations, which introduces her to the character Pip, and together, Matilda's interactions both literally with Mr. Watts and figuratively with Pip transform the person that she becomes. The telling of her story, then, becomes an act of self-actualization. Her story becomes a figurative island of truth in an ocean that contains everything besides her personal truth.Matilda's story culminates with the description of atrocities that were committed against the people of her small village on the island of Bougainville. It is fair to infer that one innocent, "skinny thirteen-year-old"--Matilda--is the only person to recount the horror of this truth; her sole narration of these events suggests the way that full truth is inaccessible, yet we are able to approach truth, especially through the act of storytelling. Symbolically, I see the idea of a "pip" relating to the idea of innocence and to the idea that people don't always know the full story, nor do they know how to tell the full story, and oftentimes there is no way to access the full story.The pip also relates to several other ideas suggested throughout the story: the idea of that Matilda's imagination can provide escape from what confines her; the idea that moral boundaries provide "containment that at the same time offers escape"; and the idea of being literally trapped on a tiny island in the South Pacific Ocean. These other incorporations of the symbolism of the "pip" work together to give the novel aesthetic coherence. Seemingly disparate parts become unified when the reader accesses the meaning of the "pip" symbolism.Interestingly, the symbol of the pip is featured in the very opening moments of the film: the camera, from a bird's-eye view, descends onto a black dot surrounded by white. This black dot is revealed to be an umbrella, and it is being held by Matilda, who is walking along a snow-covered London street. There are several other figurative pips in the opening sequence of the film. Matilda, a dark-skinned woman, appears in a snow-covered, white landscape. Next, she is the only black woman walking down the sidewalk in London, and she wears a light-beige coat and a colorful hat and scarf; everyone else in the same street shot is light-skinned, and almost all of them are wearing dark coats and caps. Then we see a white illustration of Charles Dickens' head inside a black circle (a figurative pip) on a sandwich board outside a museum dedicated to him. Shortly after that, Matilda's voice-over narration leads us through a flashback to her native island of Bougainville. We see the image of sun being reflected in water, the surface of which are obviously flying over at close distance; the island is revealed as the camera pans up, and significantly, a small green dot--the reflection of the sun caught in the camera lens--remains onscreen for a few seconds as we take in the landscape of one shoreline of Bougainville island. Following that, there is a sequence of high-contrast images of Bougainville villagers framed in long-shots against mostly blank white backgrounds. Each of the camera shots described in the sequence above incorporates figurative representations of the pip symbolism.This symbolic choice-the envisioning of several kinds of literal and figurative pips-during the opening sequence of the film makes it apparent that the many instances of pips throughout the story are intentionally developed both by the author and the filmmaker.Overall, the motif of the pip provides aesthetic unity to many ideas in both the novel and film versions of Mister Pip. The pip evokes and unifies the following ideas that recur throughout the story: the concept of an individual's struggle in society; the concept of a subversive idea (which relates both to Mr. Watts's attempts to educate the children, as well as the conflict between different factions of soldiers warring over the Panguna copper mine); the concept of an original idea, such as the students' low, rhythmic chanting of their own names with their own voices; the concept that Matilda's imagination offers escape outside the boundaries that confine her; the concept that moral boundaries guide individuals, and in the absence of clear moral boundaries (such as during times of war), individuals can be wiped out en masse; and the idea that a lone eyewitness, such as Matilda, can be the only hope for preserving the historical events experienced by a group of people.One difference between the novel and the film is that the symbolism of the pip seemed ubiquitous throughout the novel, whereas I didn't detect its employment as thoroughly throughout the film. Perhaps this is one reason why an attentive reader and viewer might judge the book to be a more engrossing experience than the film: by achieving depth through subtle, linguistically-employed symbolism, the experience of the story through the novel can prove to be more intellectually stimulating and enriching. Linguistic narration can present a multiplicity of meanings. The film, on the other hand, which relies on pictorial narration, perhaps leaves less room for imaginative interpretation because the visual representation of the story world is decided not by the reader's imagination, but by the filmmaker's imagination. The linguistic narration of the novel makes it more difficult to access the story, and leaves the envisioning of characters, setting and plot events to the reader's imagination. The open-ended quality of linguistic narration creates more possibilities for a reader to find connections among layers of symbolic meaning.In addition to the differences between symbolism in the novel and film, the novel's narrative point-of-view differs from the film's narrative point-of-view. The novel employs Matilda as a first-person narrator, and first-person narration is usually only possible in novels. Films that attempt to portray first-person narrators usually achieve only a kind of third-person limited omniscient narrator because the camera shows us things from a third-person (omniscient) perspective, although one character might provide voice-over narration of the story, thus creating a narrative point-of-view similar to a third-person limited omniscient narrator.The differences between the narrative points-of-view in the novel and film significantly affect one's experience of the story. For example, through a first-person narrator in the novel, the author is able to forcefully highlight the theme that a person must struggle to come to terms with hard truths about his or her own personal life. The author uses Matilda's process of narration to underscore how the act of storytelling actually changes how she understands herself and the events she has experienced. Matilda struggles to figure out how to tell her story. A transformation occurs in Matilda at the moment of the novel's climax, when she must describe (and relive through retelling) the moment that Mr. Watts is brutally murdered, chopped up and fed to pigs, Matilda directly addresses the reader saying, "In recalling these events I do not feel anything. Forgive me if I lost the ability to feel anything that day. It was the last thing to be taken from me after my pencil and calendar and shoes, the copy of Great Expectations, my sleeping mat and house, after Mr Watts and my mother. I do not know what you are supposed to do with memories like these. It feels wrong to want to forget. Perhaps this is why we write these things down, so we can move on."Thus, the act of telling her story is precisely what enables Matilda to share her insight that processing difficult memories through storytelling can lead a person to be able to "move on." Here is perhaps the clearest illustration of the empowerment that can be obtained when Matilda takes control of her own story in the same way that Mr. Watts and Pip take control of their own stories.The filmmaker also emphasizes Matilda's transformation when Mr. Watts and her mother are murdered, but the experience of this moment of the story is different through the film, partly because the film employs a third-person point of view. The filmmaker actually changes this critical moment of the story from Lloyd Jones's original version. In the novel version of the story, Jones chooses to not describe the shooting of Mr. Watts. Why? Consider the narrator, Matilda. Matilda's first-person narration not only limits the storytelling but also limits her ability to describe certain events (such as the shooting of Mr. Watts) because she did not directly experience them. She is relating this entire story as events that she witnessed in the not-so-distant past. Because Matilda was not present for the killing of Mr. Watts, she is unable to describe his murder in detail. Instead, she sets the scene: "As we watched the soldiers and the rambo disappear I remember feeling preternaturally calm. This is what deep, deep fear does to you. It turns you into a state of unfeeling." Then, she describes the death-the murder-of Mr. Watts indirectly. Unlike in the film, Mr. Watts is not shot in the chest, point-blank, by an angry, irrational, misguided, drunk (or hungover) redskin officer. Instead, Matilda directly describes the following events:"a few minutes later . . . we heard gunshots. Soon the two redskins reappeared by the schoolhouse. They carried their guns on their shoulders and otherwise looked bored. Between them was the rambo. They must have untied his hands because he was dragging the limp body of Mr Watts towards the pigs."It is interesting to note that such an important moment is portrayed so differently in the novel version and in the film version of this story.In the film version, the impact of the scene would be much less jarring if Jones's version of the death of Mr. Watts took place. The film instead portrays Mr. Watts being murdered very publicly, in front of the entire village, shot in the chest at point-blank range. The overall effect of the scene is similarly shocking to the abrupt death of Mr. Watts in the novel, but the reason for the change in the film version of the story can likely be traced to the difference in narrative points-of-view in the novel and the film. Because Lloyd Jones can use Matilda's transformation as a storyteller at that moment of the novel, he can understate the scene of Mr. Watts's death. If similar understatement were employed in the film, the climax would be much less shocking, and the emotional force of the scene would be less, and this stems from the film's narrative point-of-view being different from the novel's. Another difference between the novel and the film that relates to the different narrative points-of-view in each version are the scenes in the film that depict Matilda having conversations with and interacting with the character Pip, who is dressed in English Victorian clothing and who appears to be a native from Bougainville.These scenes are added to Mr. Pip the film, and they enhance the storytelling through the audio-visual medium of film. Similar kinds of moments are present in the book, such as when Matilda describes the connections she feels with Pip, but these moments in the book are not portrayed the same way that they are in the film. The film visually confronts the viewer with a striking representation of Pip as conceived of by Matilda's imagination: Matilda's imaginary Pip is like Matilda in that he appears to be originally from Bougainville, but he is clearly from a different era, he is a Bougainvillean who is enmeshed in a foreign culture, and he lives in two worlds--the story world described by Charles Dickens and the world as envisioned by Matilda's mind.The inclusion of these scenes in the film is a way for the filmmaker to achieve development of Matilda as a narrator. In the novel, the author is able to show us Matilda's imagination through her continuous storytelling--the way that she uses words to make the story come to life. In the film, however, Matilda provides only sporadic direct narration. Therefore, these added scenes with Matilda's imaginary Pip, remind the viewer of the film that Matilda is like the limited-omniscient narrator of this story.The difference between the ending of the story in the novel and the film also highlights a difference stemming from the different narrative points-of-view in each version of the story. Whereas the film ends in a way that leaves a viewer feeling that Matilda's story has a happy ending, the novel ends with Matilda closing her story in a hopeful yet open-ended way. In the novel Matilda the narrator finishes describing her experience inside the Charles Dickens' museum in London, and then, in the silence of the museum, she reflects on the lesson that Mr. Dickens-through Mr. Watts-taught her "a long time ago and during very difficult circumstances." She remembers something about Mr. Dickens about which other people inside the museum remain completely unaware. Matilda's closing words to the reader describe that "In the worshipful silence I smiled at what else they didn't know. Pip was my story, even if I was once a girl, and my face black as the shining night. Pip is my story, and in the next day I would try where Pip had failed. I would try to return home."Whereas the film shows Matilda having returned home and becoming a teacher, the novel leaves Matilda's story less decided. At the end of the novel the reader feels confident that Matilda, as the eloquent teller of her harrowing story, has demonstrated how she has already achieved the goal she articulates in her closing statement. Because the film's narrative point-of-view is more of a third-person limited omniscient point-of-view, the film can't illustrate the idea that Matilda has achieved the goal she articulates at the end of the novel. Therefore, the film shows a similar sort of achievement by Matilda, but in a more literal way than the novel.In conclusion, symbolism and narrative point-of-view are key elements of storytelling that significantly impact how a story is experienced and how deeper meanings are communicated by authors and filmmakers. The symbol of the pip, which the author develops significantly and the filmmaker incorporates to a much lesser degree, adds many of the aesthetic layers to the story which makes it possible for a reader (and viewer) to developing her understanding of the intricacies of this story over time and during subsequent rereadings. The novelist's employment of a first-person narrator is deliberate and significant, and the film's achievement of a kind of third-person limited omniscient narrator that changes the ways that film's story can portray Matilda's transformation as a protagonist. Still, the third-person limited omniscient narrative point-of-view in the film allows the filmmaker to add artistic flourishes that enhance the novelist's original artistic vision, such as the film's periodic representations of Matilda's imagining of the story world of Great Expectations, which is comprised of a blend of familiar elements from Matilda's village life in Bougainville with the foreign world of Dickens' England. This particular artistic choice by the filmmaker transforms Lloyd Jones's original story in a creative way that enhances the depth and beauty of the story in only a way that the medium of film can. The literal representation of Matilda's imagination is something that the novelist would struggle to do as effortlessly as the filmmaker, and to do without the aid of pictures. Beauty is added to the story by this series of moments in the film.Together, the novel and film develop the overall experience of beauty in Matilda's story, which is all about the importance of one's unique experience of life's treasures, as well as one's negotiation of unspeakable atrocities. That Jones chooses a first-person narrator underscores the novel's theme that truth is difficult to access because people face tremendous challenges in reporting the truth, such as threats, unreliable memory, and being murdered for speaking the truth. Jones skillfully crafts the novel so that the narration underscores and enhances the theme that people must struggle to find, come to terms with, and tell their personal truths, and that having the courage to engage in this difficult endeavor is what it means to be human.