Orlando vs. Orlando: Divorcing the Literature from the Film

Wait. Wrong Orlando. But…let’s not be hasty. We can linger, yes? No? Ah, well. Moving on.

One of the final assignments for my Critical Theory Literature class was a compare and contrast of Orlando the Virginia Woolf story and Orlando the movie based on it. Six hundred to one thousand words about how they stack up to one another. Easy peasy, eh?


Let me just say, right up front, that I loved both. Each had its very good points. Each also had its weak points. The story’s weaker points were mostly concerned with Woolf’s style of writing. Even in a “light, playful” story, her phrasing can be a tad chewy. The movie’s weaker points were mostly in some of the artistic choices that the director made. Again, I am not saying that either was bad. Just, as with any human endeavor, they weren’t flawless.

At any rate, I did the assignment. Unfortunately, for my professor, I am NOT a scholar. I like writing. I aspire to be a published writer. But, I am a fiction writer. So I did the best I could and turned it in. And really, this isn’t a rehash of the assignment, although I did steal my title from it for this piece. Because it is a COOL title, dammit. It should see the light of day and not languish in my professor’s slush pile.

No, what I wanted to talk about was this tendency we have to rehash stories into movies. Many other people have already bewailed that. To be honest, humans have always told the same stories over and over. Even Billy S. was guilty of this.1  This is because we really do have a pretty shallow arc of things that are important to us on the continuum of themes that we could talk about. They are significant things, and we should talk about them. Some of the ones we see the most are life, love, death, betrayal, forgiveness.

Très importante, right?

And I grok that movies are a fabulous medium. I love movies. I watch a lot of movies. No, really. A lot. And, quotes from them pepper my conversation and writings. However, I think that the one thing that truly movies sucks at is translating literature. Especially for students.

I’ll wait while y’all finish gnashing your teeth and shaking your fists at the monitor. Done?


Here’s why I think that students are better served by literature as words: Movies are limiting.

It is ONE viewpoint. One. That you are fed by the director/screenwriter/producers. You do not get the benefit of figuring out for yourself what it all means. You’re told. And before people get their panties in a wad and send me hate-mail with details about their favorite movie that “Oh. My. GAWD. Movie XYZ totally has fourteen different viewpoints that can be blah blah blah.”2

Seriously? Of course there are exceptions. Exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis, which may be translated as “the exception confirms the rule in the cases not excepted.” Or more succinctly, the rule exists because the exception implies that it does.

My point, before I wandered SERIOUSLY off track was that in the vast majority of movies, you are force fed the viewpoint of the director. While some of these adaptations are very good, they are still just.one.viewpoint.

The beauty of words is that they are malleable. They are fluid. Their meaning shifts from one moment to the next, one person to the next. It is words’ changeability that separates a writer from an author, in my ever-so-humble opinion. A writer captures meaning, plot, and dialogue. The reader is able to read the story and be entertained. An author captures meaning, dialogue, and plot. Then, just for kicks, inserts multiple meanings within their text. Reading an author’s work is like peeling back layers of an onion, always finding something new.3

Tangented again. Sorry.

At any rate, I guess what I am (eventually) trying to say is that I will always prefer the book to the movie. I will always find multiple layers within good literature. And I think that we should continue to push the words in school – and not just at the collegiate level[s]. Let’s have our children find out new things for themselves, get lost and find the path again without too much intervention on our parts. Force feeding a classic complete with a pre-fab meaning sort of misses the point.

Don’t you think?

1 – Now, I want you to notice something that I just saw [and take as proof as my not being a scholar. If I was a scholar, I’d have noticed this while writing the Orlando essay.]  Which person accuses Shakespeare of being a plagiarist?  Why, Robert Greene, the author of Orlando Furioso. [Emphasis mine.]  And does Mr. Greene show up in cameo in the book Orlando? Sure he does. As the 17th/19th century poet and critic, Nick Greene.  Hmmm….. /ArsenioHall

2 – There are others. You’ll notice that both of the movies I reference are considered “science fiction” and not High Literature. Please reference Mister Hall, above.

3 – Inevitable comparison.  Literature is to onions as Movies are to parfait.

6 thoughts on “Orlando vs. Orlando: Divorcing the Literature from the Film

    1. A friend vehemently disagreed with my post because she said that movies gave her a way to think about a story in a way she hadn’t before.
      Which is true. But I still maintain that it is one viewpoint.

      There Is No One True Way is a truism.

      How many times can I use the word “true” or a version thereof in one reply?

  1. Thank you for calling Virginia Wolff’s turn of phrase “chewy”. I’m sorry. As wonderful as she is, her writing makes me nuts. i can’t read her for fun.

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