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How Hollywood “Sexed Up” Wide Sargasso Sea

Hollywood has never been shy about embellishing and/or totally changing the meaning of a novel to make the story sell to a film audience.

Stanley Kubrick was a master at this. He changed the ending of A Clockwork Orange, and in Lolita he seemed to make Humbert the victim of Dolores’ seduction, instead of a sexual predator obsessed with a 13-year-old girl.

When I did a Google search for a cover of Wide Sargasso Sea to display on my blog, I found two things—as is the case with most novels that become movies. I found a variety of cover images of the novel—exactly what I was looking for—but I also found all sorts of movie posters and images from the film.

What struck me about these posters is how misrepresentative they are of the story—at least the book version. Wide Sargasso Sea is not a romance. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Maybe there’s one or two scenes of a sexual nature, but that’s it. And they aren’t much to speak of. I hardly remember them.

But by looking at the movie posters, you would think Wide Sargasso Sea was some kind of romance novel fit for a Fabio cover or an Antonio Banderas starring role. It’s just silly.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at a few of the novel’s covers versus a few of the movie posters.

We’ll start with the book.

A woman in some sort of Caribbean jungle. Okay. Nothing much here.

This one’s a little more abstract. But, again, it has a “natureish” feel to it, and it also includes some of the islanders.

 This one’s a little more suggestive, possibly, but nothing drastic. I’m assuming this is Bertha, possibly on her wedding day? Unusual art.

Okay, again, a few of the islanders from Dominica on the cover. Nothing to see here.

But, now, take it away Hollywood! Here are some of the movie posters:

I’m not sure that I even remember a scene that would match this visual.

This is the mildest image I could find. Nothing outlandish here, but it still seems to play up the almost non-existing romantic side of the novel.

Similar to the first movie image, with the addition of a defiant-looking Antoinnette.

This just makes me laugh. Is this a soft porn movie starring Antonio Banderas? What’s up with the sepia-toned cheesiness? This honestly looks like something a 9th grader put together in Photoshop–and this is supposed to depict one of the most significant novels of the 20th Century? Please, child.

Am I missing something here? Are these movie posters just way over the top?

I guess that’s to be expected…but I would think Jean Rhys was turning over in her grave when the movie came out.

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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dominick Sabalos #

    Film posters are not necessarily representative of their films though. Have you seen the film to say whether it’s a good adaptation?

    I haven’t, for the record, though I have long adored Jane Eyre.

    Like

    May 17, 2012
    • True. They certainly represent how the movie is being marketed, though. And this film was actually rated “NC-17” and called “erotic” by some reviewers. Makes me wonder what book they read. All that said, no, I haven’t watched the film. Doubt I will.

      Like

      May 17, 2012
  2. It’s all for the sake of marketing. They know sex sells, and exploit this to its maximum potential. If it sells a book, it matters little to the producers whether or not it misrepresents the content. Yes, I think the movie posters are over the top. Caveat emptor!

    Like

    May 17, 2012
  3. About A Clockwork Orange: When Burgess published his novel in America, the last chapter was omitted and for years the available editions did not include the original redemptive ending. Kubrick made the movie from this edition. Later the missing chapter was reattached and all current versions of the novel include the ending which was originally intended but not published.

    I suspect you read the current edition. Kubrick did not rewrite the ending of the novel.

    This is the entry from Wikipedia on the subject:

    Omission of the final chapter

    The book has three parts, each with seven chapters. Burgess has stated that the total of 21 chapters was an intentional nod to the age of 21 being recognised as a milestone in human maturation. The 21st chapter was omitted from the editions published in the United States prior to 1986.[1] In the introduction to the updated American text (these newer editions include the missing 21st chapter), Burgess explains that when he first brought the book to an American publisher, he was told that U.S. audiences would never go for the final chapter, in which Alex sees the error of his ways, decides he has lost all energy for and thrill from violence and resolves to turn his life around (a slow-ripening but classic moment of metanoia—the moment at which one’s protagonist realises that everything he thought he knew was wrong).
    At the American publisher’s insistence, Burgess allowed their editors to cut the redeeming final chapter from the U.S. version, so that the tale would end on a darker note, with Alex succumbing to his violent, reckless nature—an ending which the publisher insisted would be ‘more realistic’ and appealing to a U.S. audience. The film adaptation, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is based on the American edition of the book (which Burgess considered to be “badly flawed”). Kubrick called Chapter 21 “an extra chapter” and claimed that he had not read the original version until he had virtually finished the screenplay, and that he had never given serious consideration to using it. In Kubrick’s opinion, the final chapter was unconvincing and inconsistent with the book.

    Like

    May 17, 2012
    • Correct. The post I linked to at the beginning of this post talks about all of that. But I still say he changed the ending. This story, as originally written by Burgess, included chapter 21. Kubrick, whether intentionally or not, didn’t include it. Not to mention how surprising it is that a screenwriter of Kubrick’s magnitude wouldn’t have read, or even be familiar with, the first version of a novel he’s adapting into a screenplay.

      Like

      May 17, 2012
      • Kubrick used the American edition of the book where the publisher had convinced Burgess that the final chapter was inappropriate to the narrative (i.e.., unbelievable). This all happened well before Kubrick and independent of Kubrick. The story is that after the screenplay was set, the European edition of Clockwork was brought to Kubrick’s attention. Like many similar controversies over literature, Kubrick ruled that inclusion of the final chapter was unnecessary artistically.

        Besides, adaptation is integral to art and Kubrick could have done anything he wanted since his product is the movie (and Burgess’s the book). There are movies that improve on the original books.

        Also, I agree that the final chapter is problematic: does it add to the novel or maybe it is a flaw?

        Like

        May 17, 2012
    • Very interesting comment on America’s addiction to violence. Thanks for the info.

      Like

      May 17, 2012
  4. I remember seeing the move version on cable late night years ago. It was pretty awful and I only managed to make it through a portion. What I do remember had something to do with sexed up voodoo rituals. I think you can definitely skip the film version. I have seen every version out there of Jane Eyre and have liked them all for different reasons.

    Like

    May 17, 2012
  5. The media is a tool. We adjust our gears with this tool. You know, the cheesier the better. You noticed that poster enough to mention it as well as talk a little more about it than the rest of them. Remember the movie “American Beauty” with Kevin Spacey and the young women and Spacey’s wife (nuerotic as hell)I think Annette Benning (real estate) who was cheating with real estate guru. I believe the poster for this movie displayed the young blonde in a bath with beautiful red rose petals all around her, just barely covering everything. Man I loved that poster, so I had to see the movie. I have a version of Camus’ “The Plague” in which the cover is really cool. I’ve had it since high school and I still appreciate it when I look at the book shelf that holds it. Just call me Gabby or Ms. Garrolous today. Good topic.

    Like

    May 17, 2012
  6. I am in the minority who really hated Jane Eyre and found it completely un-romantic, and I can’t imagine how that bodice-ripping movie poster could be in any way related to a novel dealing with some of the same characters. Then again, I haven’t read Wide Sargasso Sea.

    Like

    May 17, 2012
  7. Hi Robert,

    Just began following your blog. I am a huge reader myself and loved Wide Sargasso Sea. I agree that movies blow novels way out of proportion and distort them into the filmmaker’s adaptation. I look forward to seeing what you’re reading and, hopefully, I can pick up on it, too! I’m an English major as well so this is right up my alley.

    Best,
    Shelby

    Like

    May 18, 2012
  8. Sex sells, right? Looking forward to your review of this one. I’m planning on reading it as part of the back to the classics challenge 2012. This was a fun post to read.

    Like

    May 18, 2012
  9. [“Hollywood has never been shy about embellishing and/or totally changing the meaning of a novel to make the story sell to a film audience.”]

    Just Hollywood? Even William Shakespeare wasn’t above such methods.

    Like

    June 8, 2012
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    Like

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