Analysis of the Film Adaptation of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
In the short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge written by Ambrose Bierce, there are many ways that the film magnifies and alters the original text. When analyzing the two mediums here, first we must fully understand what film adaptation is. Film adaptation is defined as the transfer of written work into a visual film. As I studied the film and the text I found that it was fairly accurate in covering the general aspect of the story. However, there were certain details that were not shown in both the film and the text. The details in this text and film are critical in the way the audience will perceive Bierce’s story about a man who is facing death in one of the strangest yet interesting ways possible-by imaginative dreaming.
Bierce writes this text from the point of view limited omniscience. Limited omniscience is told by a third-person who tells the story as an observer (Samide). In order to keep us wondering if Farquhar is dead or not, this was extremely critical. This observer in the story enters into Farquhar’s thoughts and feelings in a very extreme way, ‘Just as Farquhar drops at the end of the rope, the narrator enters Farquhar’s mind and stays there through Farquhar’s entire hallucination of escape (Samide).’ Using this point of view, the written text provided us with much more detail and gave us a better inside idea of how Farquhar was feeling during the situation he was in. The story was much easier to understand and relate to when trying to figure out the reasoning behind everything that was going on. The detail used in the text provides us with information we simply cannot grasp when watching the film. For example, ‘He felt the ripples upon his face and heard their separate sounds as they struck. He looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual trees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf – he saw the very insects upon them: the locusts, the brilliant bodied flies, the gray spiders stretching their webs from twig to twig. He noted the prismatic colors in all the dewdrops upon a million blades of grass. The humming of the gnats that danced above the eddies of the stream, the beating of the dragon flies’ wings, the strokes of the water spiders’ legs, like oars which had lifted their boat – all these made audible music.
A fish slid along beneath his eyes and he heard the rush of its body parting the water. (Bierce).’ This piece taken from the story not only provides us with great detail of Farquhar’s surroundings, but his feelings and the way he is experiencing all of this. The feelings and emotions shown by the detailed texts are not shown in the film to the proper extent necessary for a full understanding. As I wrap up all of the things that did not translate well into the film, I’d like to mention that I noticed the film does not give reasoning behind Farquhar’s execution, whatsoever. While I find this detail to be extremely important to the story, the lack of explaining his execution in the film could potentially make it more or less interesting to the people watching because it provides the audience with the opportunity to make up their own ideas as to why Farquhar is being hung. On another note, it could also become an issue with misunderstandings and confusion if people had not read the short story yet (Thompson).
Furthermore, leaving out the detail that explains the rationale behind Farquhar’s hanging, this piece of information takes away a significant amount of sympathy given to the character in the film. To me, part of what made the text more interesting and enjoyable, was me sympathizing for Farquhar’s character as they portrayed him as a family man who only wanted to do right by his home, his wife, and his children. Given the information in the text on his execution, it made me interpret the story much differently rather than if I had only watched the film. Reading the text before watching the film caused me to see the execution of Farquhar as much more harsh and unfair. ‘His attempt to burn down the bridge may be seen as an attempt to defend his home and family, rather than help the Confederacy. That he is lured to the bridge by a Union scout disguised as a Confederate, and that Farquhar and his wife share the hospitality of their home with this soldier, add to our sympathy for Farquhar. We see his hanging as harsh and unfair. Thus, we are disposed to hope that Farquhar will escape execution and are less likely to question the escape when it seems to happen (Samide).’ Another factor I found to be important was the setting. Choosing the Civil War as the setting for this story increased sympathy for Farquhar not only because it’s rare that the military can execute a civilian, but also because the Civil War time period made the event more credible (Samide). Although the war isn’t strongly depicted in the story, it’s time frame plays a big role in the series of events that take place and cause us to view the characters in different ways. As for the other main characters, I felt that the film and text were quite similar. The captain, the sergeant, the two privates, and his executioners were all equally portrayed as cold, spiteful, and malicious men. The only difference I found in the film and text regarding these characters were that we were able to have more insight on their characters with the narration detailing whereas they were hard to get a solid understanding on their personalities in the film.
As I stated above, depending in which order the audience either watches the film or reads the text in, I feel like that is what will truly determine the portrayal of this story. If the audience were to watch the film before the text you might have made up your own reasoning behind Farquhar’s execution, giving yourself reason to be sympathetic. In other cases, maybe the audience completely ignored that detail and focused on how fast-paced and action packed the story was instead. Either way the audience will still be shocked to find out the ending of it all being a part of his death hallucinations. In another aspect, the audience may have read the text first and knew the reason he was being hung and been even more sympathetic towards his character. Either way, watching or reading it, whichever order chosen we end up surprised at the gruesome and shocking ending to the story. In both the text and film, we become so carried away by Farquhar’s desire to escape death that we are stopped in our path in the last paragraph or last few minutes where it starts to piece together that his escape is all part of some hallucination fantasy dream (Stoicheff).
I find the overall mood in the text to be very dark and sorrowful. I think that the text uses his ‘family man’ personality to manipulate emotion in the reader and the film uses more suspense to manipulate the readers interest in the ending of the film. In my opinion, the mood seen in the text is quite similar to the film. This story is extremely suspenseful and manipulative depending on which way the audience is watching or reading it. Bierce grabs all of our attention in the split second that the plank supporting him is removed and him landing into the water instead of hanging. During this interval, this is the part where Farquhar’s hallucination of escape begins. By grabbing our attention this way, Bierce knows that he has our full attention based upon knowing that victims who die by hanging in all actuality can die immediately, while others can tend to struggle for several minutes before death. All of this relating back to the dark and sorrowful mood of the story being based upon death in these cases becoming a horrific and gradual process (Stoicheff).
Nevertheless, after reading the text and watching the story I believe that it strictly comes down to the type of audience you’re trying to please with this story by Bierce. Personally, I think that reading the text and then watching the film saves a lot of confusion whereas I think I would have lost interest without knowing why Farquhar was being hung. I found it extremely useful to read the text prior to watching the film because I knew exactly how the story went but seeing it put into visual content made it much more interesting to me to actually see the setting the way Bierce meant for us to and to see it the way Farquhar did during his imaginative escape from death.
In conclusion, the film adaptation of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge does in fact enhance, change, and lose critical details from the original text. Throughout this paper I focused on all of the factors that play into the analyzation and perceptions of this story by Bierce. I honestly didn’t realize how strong the analytical shift was between the two mediums until I really focused on all of the factors and elements that made up the story to begin with. Although, the story line remains fairly the same in the text and film there were still a few details left out in the film that completely changes the way the audience will perceive the story Bierce wrote about a man who is facing death in one of the strangest yet interesting ways possible-by imaginative dreaming.
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