End of the Affair – Greene vs Hollywood
What we watch on screen in the course of a film is the culmination of the skills of artists: writers, directors, animators, actors. When a book is made into a film, screenwriters may use aspects of literary design, which have the ability to alter the themes of the original text for dramatic effect, or viewer satisfaction. The End of the Affair (1999) is a prime example of how easily this can be done by using changes in point of view and narrative configuration when moving from novel to film. The screenwriter (Neil Jordan) simplifies Greene’s original story about the conflict between religious and human love, resulting in a more basic love story.
Graham Greene wrote The End of the Affair in the first person, from the point of view of Maurice Bendrix, an up-and-coming writer during the Second World War in England. It is implied that Greene based the character of Maurice Bendrix on himself, expressing anger and bitterness for his own lover through his writing. In the novel, Bendrix is presented as jealous and stubborn, and he seems to be cursed with an eternal, incurable frustration. In the second paragraph of Chapter 1, Greene uses the word “hate” seven times as an almost-warning to the reader about the nature of his book. This is not a happy story, and the narrator of it, even less happy. The first person of the book is harder to sympathize with as the pages of ranting and self pity blur together in a seemingly endless tunnel of doom and depression. However, the film gives a different impression of Bendrix. In the novel, Sarah doesn’t seem real, but instead some kind of dream which he is desperately clinging on to, a vision of desire. The reader cannot see her, and therefore the only way we know her is through Bendrix’s words of jealousy and hate, and the parts of her journal which Greene allows us to read. In the film, she is a beautiful woman – played by Julianne Moore – whom the audience could fall in love with also. In this way, Bendrix is easier to sympathize with as the first-person-nature of the book is somewhat lost by adding a third dimension to the other characters.
Seeing the characters on screen, as they work and react to each other, falling in and out of love and hate, helps the audience to relate. They are more human, more tangible, and those who have been in love can better understand their pain. This change altered the “hatred” theme of the story. The novel, at least for the first three books, truly is a story of Bendrix’s hate, while the film presents it as a tragic love story by encouraging its audience to empathize and support his love and lust for the beautiful Sarah. One of the main differences between Greene’s book and Jordan’s film is the emphasis on religion. This is lessened from novel to film by the change of narrative configuration, the movement from subjective to objective reality. The novel is titled “The End of the Affair” for a reason, in that it works to uncover why the affair ended. Greene writes a heartbreaking line of his story as he explains that Sarah ends the affair as a result of a promise that she made to God when she thought Bendrix was killed by a bomb: “I will believe…I’ll give him up for ever, only let him be alive alive…People can love without seeing each other, can’t they, they love You all their lives without seeing You, and then he came in at the door, and he was alive, and I thought now the agony of being without him starts.” (76) These lines of Sarah’s journal foreshadow her upcoming inner turmoil between religious love, the loyalty she has for God, and human love, the lust she has for Bendrix.
However, the objective nature of this scene in the film takes religion out of the equation, changing the entire End of the affair. Julianne Moore utters these same words, but they are smothered by the covers of the bed as she bends her head down low to pray. This is an instance in which watching the film before reading the book can be problematic: the aspect and importance of God could be lost from the story until one reads the pages of Sarah’s journal which pertain to religion, and her new lover, “You”. Without the subjectivity that Greene’s writing gives his reader, it is more difficult for us to sympathize with Sarah’s actions thereafter; her running from Bendrix, her lack of contact with the man whom she claimed she would love forever. In this way, the film is unbelievably unfaithful to the book, changing the central meaning of its title to appeal to an audience who, without reading the novel, could view this as a tragic, yet standard, romance of two lovers kept apart by a loveless marriage and a woman’s inability to leave her rich and stable husband.
While the film version of The End of the Affair was beautifully styled and shot, and was entertaining and engaging, one must not ignore the literary design used to alter the complexity of the tragedy of Greene’s original novel. It is important that these aspects of literary design are explored and analysed to fully understand the reasons for the modifications made to appeal to a wider audience. The decisions made by Neil Jordan simplify the story and relationships between Sarah, Bendrix, Henry, and of course, God.
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