How Oliver Twist Makes His Way Through Time And Polanski’s Reading

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist was written in a period in which the Industrial Revolution took a major role in society among the rich and poor. It was a time when the rich became richer and the poor poorer. Oliver was one of those poor. His mother died when he was born so, he landed in a workhouse at the age of nine and began to bear against life’s misfortune. This same dramatic orphan-life theme was undeniably perceived in the film-adaptation of Roman Polanski, Oliver Twist. However, in that it is difficult to equate two incomparable works of art it makes sense to see through the director’s choice and reasons along with the two different periods of time, how the film adaptation is unique to itself, although the overall dramatic mood conserves itself in both.

Though the main motivation for Polanski to add a new flavour to Dickens’ novel was to have a film that his children could identify themselves to. Through the choices of the director, the plot of the original text flows in accordance with his preferences, which do have plausible relation with his own background as they have with the novelist himself. First of all, at the very begin of the film, Oliver’s being brought to the workhouse by Mr. Bumble right when he enters his ninth age takes places as an establishing shot, and moving on to the scene where he is presented to a circle of people questioning him and explaining him the purpose of his stay. An establishing shot presents “an overview of the scene that follows” so it is possible to say that the director’s intention was to make it clear that he is going to concentrate more on Oliver’s adventure. Polanski did it right that way, in that the sequence-of-events do have a prime focus upon how Oliver shall deal the battle with his misfortune. The book is unlike the film giving more of the background of events. For example, the chapter in the book wherein Oliver’s birth and the death of his mother is introduced is not presented in the adaptation. This excluded part is more about the woman’s suffering and the clarification of how Oliver came to life. So, this makes it again clear that Oliver’s mother’s dramatic death is what is important in the plot, but rather how Oliver’s misfortune begins. It is to say that Polanski deliberately put that part away, in that Roman Polanski as a child, together with his family went through the Second World War and had to live in Krakow ghetto. During this time his mother got killed by the Germans and his stepsister escaped to Paris for good. His father and his friends help him escape from the ghetto, and he was left alone in the streets coping with what life brought him. In addition, McCarthy also suggests that the “classic tale” was turned into a “boy’s adventure yarn”. Especially the negation of the character Monks, who was Oliver’s half-brother, had not even a tiny bit of mention in the adaptation, while in the text the novelist Dickens refers to Monks in a chapter as, “In which a mysterious character appears upon the scene; and many things, inseparable from this history, are done and performed”. This can show that for Polanski Monks was not an essential character to complete his style of the film story. These notable points can be derived from the fact that Polanski, in his many award-winning film, The Pianist discusses the topic of a Jew pianist hiding during a Nazi invasion and gets the mercy of a German soldier relates with the condition of his parents during the Second World War. His parents were Jew and were moved by the Germans to a ghetto.

Although, when compared with The Pianist, in Oliver Twist Polanski gave more room to his childhood memoir this does not change the possibility of a “deep emotional connection” between the two films, as Robert Ebert states in his blog. Another possible reason for Polanski to relate his experience through the use of Oliver’s adventures-part of the novel can be because the novelist himself has dwelled through nearly the same strivings as Oliver did. Dickens’s father ended up in prison due to financial difficulties which made him work at the age of twelve among working-class men and boys in a “boot-blacking factory”, and was even left with loneliness when the rest of his family decided to move near the prison. What Ebert deducted from this fact was that even though Oliver, Dickens, and Polanski did catch on to life’s good side it did not delete their though times. Out of this melodramatic connection between the three of them, Polanski made his own interpretation by presenting Oliver’s experience, which he felt close to due to the fact of their shared background. Dennis Grunes points out that the film in itself is actually a “companion-piece”, and explains further, Working from a script by Ronald Harwood, as well as the reservoir of memories of when, both [Polanski’s] his parents having been shipped Auschwitz during the Second World War, as a boy he, too as Oliver struggled to survive and elude capture, Polanski has come up with a fresh, original take on the Dickens material.

In accordance with these also the disappearance of Monks, Oliver’s half-brother, who in the novel plays a significant role in turning the wheels into Oliver’s favour, in that his actual plan is to ruin Oliver’s life and destroys the golden locket left to Oliver by his mother and charging him to murder. However, Mr. Brownlow forced Monk to share “the large fortune” with Oliver. Also for Dickens, it was a character that had much impact upon the novel’s plot. He promotes this character’s significance through the chapters’ titles; “In which a mysterious character appears upon the scene; and many things, inseparable from this history, are done and performed”, “Introduces some respectable characters with whom the reader is already acquainted, and shows how Monks and the Jew laid their worthy heads together”. For Polanski, the exclusion of Monks could be because it rather than moving around Oliver’s side, we would perceive a look from Monks’. It could be his reason for having hatred upon Oliver. Why hatred? Because eventually, it was Oliver’s mother who had a relationship with his father. His father left Monks’ mother to be with another woman. Furthermore, The Jew, Fagin in Dickens version, was actually presented as a Jew, which has, of course, its reason. In the Victorian Period the depiction of Jews was “a negative racial stereotype”, this so affected, in society and literature, their ‘otherness’. Which, therefore, could be an excuse for Dickens (not Polanski) to put an evil character as a “Jew” in the novel. Polanski, I think did not need to refer to a Jew in the “boy adventure-plot”. The part next to the final scene was also a big difference compared with Dickens’. While in the book Oliver goes together with Mr. Brownlow to the cell of Fagin to say goodbye and prays, “Oh! God forgive this wretched man! However, Polanski represents this same scene more dramatic, in that Oliver states there “You were kind to me.”, to Fagin. This can suggest thereby, that Fagin is besides “the stereotype” labeled to him, actually also the victim of the same system. If it were not so, maybe Oliver could have ended up in more horrid. These both justify why he is not “The Jew” in Polanski’s adaptation. Oliver, although encountering terrible cases, does meet people such as Mr. Brownlow, the woman while on the road to London, Nancy trying to save him. So why couldn’t be Fagin put in the same category? Polanski states about Kingsley’s Fagin, It is still a Jewish stereotype but without going overboard. He is not a Hassidic Jew, but his accent and looks are Jewish of the period. Ben said a very interesting thing. He said that with all his amoral approach of life, Fagin still provides a living for these kids. Of course, you cannot condone pickpocketing. But what else could they do?

Another observable thing is that although the director’s choices, indeed, have an impact upon the characteristics of the adaptation film, the time frame in which the novel was written and that of the film is no doubt apart. In other words, there will be, of course, the dissimilarity between the two kinds out of time’s mutability. Speaking of time, the Dickens novel was published in 1839, mid-19th century, while Polanski released his adaptation in 2005. A two-century difference. During Dickens’ time, the Industrial Revolution did transform Britain’s social life hugely. And the Poor Law in 1834, did establish the workhouses, rather known as a kind of “prison system”. People’s workplaces were replaced by factory systems, which made them suffer extreme poverty, and children were laboured in workhouses and industries for more than 12 hours a day.

Meanwhile, the wealthy ones lived in big houses, did not need to work, were well fed, clean, and well clothed. This social inequality led eventually to the early death of the poor children labouring in the workhouses. In that, Dickens himself did live throughout those years and in reality, he himself worked also in the same conditions, it is unexceptional for the novelist to not talk about such a dominant issue, existing in both society and his early life. Therefore, Dickens’ novel takes more the side of a critic book rather than the actual “novel” book. His intention to criticize the condition of the poor people, who had to bear with the misery, is explained further in Westland’s “introduction” part of the novel. Out of that, it is apparent that Dicken’s intention is to “provoke outrage”, and “attack other disgraceful practices the apprenticing of children to chimney sweepers, pauper funerals, incompetent magistrate and the “utilitarian philosophy underpinning such institutionalized abuses” . Throughout the book the influence of these blames can be seen in the omniscient voice of the novelist himself. “What a noble illustration of the tender laws of England! They let the paupers go to sleep!”, the illustration mentions the part where Oliver runs to his “rough hard bed, and sobbed himself to sleep” after picking oakum. And again in the first chapter of the book, the omniscient voice makes its very entrance, there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to take upon himself the office of respiration a troublesome practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy existence. Now, if, during this brief period Oliver has been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time. There being nobody by, however, but a pauper woman, who was rendered rather misty by an unwonted allowance of beer, and a parish surgeon who did such matters by contract.

It is obvious that Dickens’ use of such implications were there to make his point sound more. However, Polanski, rather than marking a social critic upon the time, does it by using the inspiration to give his children, and all children, an opportunity to “identify themselves” with. In an interview in Bangkok the director explains, my children very often come to see me working and the results of my work somehow escape them. It’s far from their worlds and I thought it came when I should do a movie that they can somehow identify with, so they can understand the results of my efforts on set after having made the Pianist. And he said that he preferred Spiderman. Spiderman is a nice movie but I wanted to show the children that there are also other ways of movies.

So, the fact that Polanski did not make use of the poverty issue in the mid-19thies as Dickens did come from the time gap. He did it great in his own way by showing it through the setting, character’s colour and mood. He leaves it to the viewer to understand, firstly the boy’s tragedy and how he coped with it and then the surrounding together with the period which we do also see in the novel. Another point related with the time issue is that the development of things is in the habit of constant improvement. Things do upgrade while time runs, there is no such thing as steadiness. Talks became messages, face-to-face meetings became either “skype” or “facetime”, writing letters became texting, and even smiling became emojis. So, how is it not possible to have a new sort of language among all those changes? If the demonstrations of films are taken as a language in itself, it would be reasonable to understand that a couple of sentences in a book have the possibility of not fulfilling the same feelings in the film. Also in films the scenes, surroundings and usually also the gestures of characters are chosen by the director’s choice in the “infinite variety of ways”, on the contrary the choice of a literature artist is circumstanced to describe those particle things. Thus, in the scene where Oliver goes to meet Fagin in cell, the confrontation of him was described as, “the condemned criminal was seated on his bed, rocking himself from side to side, with countenance more like that of a snared beast than the face of a man…”.

According to Dickens, Fagin was more a beast than a man. When the same scene was in the hands of Polanski, he decided to show Fagin in a corner of the room and also adds further the effect of ‘snared’ through the hindrance of a body. This was Polanski’s way of depicturing Dickens’ word. If we have to put studying the signs of films in a category of language, it would also not wrong to say that both of the kinds do have a unique way of presenting what is imagined. And also the fact that even when translating a text to another language-text the possible contrast is inevitable, in that the translation depends on the one translating, it is likewise when translating the language of books to that of films. Therefore, the shooting of a film adaptation does rely on the interpretation of the director. The same is also true for film adaptations with the same text as a source, so how the text is presented depends on the transferring director. The connexion between films’ interpretation and time’s mutability lies in the fact that by time film has evolved its ‘language’ which also can be seen through the switch from silent motion pictures to 3D films.

Thus, even if the boy, Oliver Twist has the dominance in both the book and adaptation, the fact that Polanski made the film for his children along with all children, and took his early childhood as main inspiration, which is why the plot is more around Oliver in his version, is one of the primal factors to create a distinction between the two kinds of artwork. Furthermore, the two-century difference amongst their time of being released brings about the actuality of Dickens developing a critic book, and Polanski a more personal motivation. Also, the mutability of time, which has undeniably a finger in the existence of a new sort of language, is the chief reason for the divergence among the two kinds of artwork, in that every filmmaker’s interpretation depends on their phantasy.

Works Cited

  1. ‘Charles Dickens Biography: Childhood and Schooling.’ Encyclopedia of World Biography, https://www.notablebiographies.com/De-Du/Dickens-Charles.html, Accessed 23 May 2019.
  2. Collie, Fiona. ‘Polanski’s Twist on Dickens Classic.’ The Journal. The Queen’ Journal, 11 Nov. 2005. Accessed 24 May 2019.
  3. Dickens, Charles. ‘Oliver Twist.’ Wordsworth Ed. Ltd., 2000, https://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2005-11-11/arts/polanskis-twist-dickens-classic/, Accessed 24 May 2019.
  4. Dir. AP Archive. YouTube. YouTube, 21 July 2015, https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=video&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjBh5StjLriAhUGs4sKHYWyA0oQtwIIKTAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dn08TYyag4iM&usg=AOvVaw3Sv68ZBcGx4NiOTgOFrjP9, Accessed 25 May 2019.
  5. Ebert, Roger. ‘Oliver Twist Movie Review & Film Summary (2005) | Roger Ebert.’ RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC, 29 Sept. 2005, https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/oliver-twist-2005, Accessed 22 May 2019.
  6. Grunes, Dennis. “OLIVER TWIST (Roman Polanski, 2005).” Dennis Grunes, WordPress, 8 Apr. 2011, https://grunes.wordpress.com/2007/03/30/oliver-twist-roman-polanski-2005/, Accessed 23 May 2019.
  7. Lambert, Tim. ‘Life in the 19th Century.’ Life in the 19th Century, http://www.localhistories.org/19thcent.html, Accessed 24 May 2019.
  8. McCarthy, Todd. ‘Oliver Twist.’ Variety. Penske Media Corp., 11 Sept. 2005, https://variety.com/2005/film/awards/oliver-twist-5-1200523337/, Accessed 20 May 2019.
  9. Monaco, James. ‘The Language of Film: Sign and Syntax.’ How to Read A Film. 3rd ed. N.p.: Oxford UP, 2000. 157-59.
  10. Richardson, Ruth. “Oliver Twist and the Workhouse.” The British Library, The British Library, 18 Feb. 2014, www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/oliver-twist-and-the-workhouse. Accessed 24 May 2019.
  11. Staszczyszyn, Bartosz. ‘Roman Polański.’ Culture.pl., 30 Mar. 2007, https://culture.pl/en/artist/roman-polanski#A%20Wartime%20Childhood, Accessed 22 May 2019.
  12. Summers, Sue. ‘Roman Polanski: Roman à Clef.’ The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 02 Oct. 2005, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2005/oct/02/features.review, Accessed 22 May 2019.


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