A Comparison of Kate Chopin's The Awakening and Grand Isle
Grand Isle is the movie adaptation of Kate Chopin's 1889 novel, The Awakening. Turner Network Television (TNT) made the movie in 1991, and it stars Kelly McGillis as Edna Pontellier and Adrian Pasdar as Robert Lebrun. To say that this movie is based, even loosely, on The Awakening is an insult to Kate Chopin's colorful literary work. A reviewer from People Weekly calls it a "tedious melodrama" and sees it as Kelly McGillis's "vanity project" because she is star, producer, and narrator ("Grand Isle" 13). Grand Isle is an example of how Hollywood's ratings scramble can tear apart a striking piece of literature.
This movie misses the novel's subtle commentary on society completely. The first example is the role of Leonce Pontellier. In the movie, he is portrayed as a hateful, negligent husband. It is a temptation to make an easy villain of Leonce in the novel, but he is simply a male chauvinist, which was not an uncommon role in his society (Skaggs 88). Chopin was trying to address society as a whole, while the movie turns Leonce into the bully. Only the scenes where Leonce is angry with Edna are shown, leaving out his confusion and concern for her. The movie shows Leonce scolding Edna for neglecting the children, demanding her to come inside instead of sleep in the hammock, and becoming angry with her when he finds she has skipped her reception day. It does not show his genuine concern for her which he confides to his doctor or his confusion over her behavior. By creating a villain in Leonce, the movie misses the point Chopin was trying to address about her society in general.
Another aspect of the movie that falls short of Chopin's novel is the relationship between Edna and Robert. First, the movie shows nothing about how Robert enters Edna's life. In the novel, he is the son of the Pontelliers' landlady at Grand Isle, their summer vacation getaway. In the movie, we are left wondering how this man came to be in Edna's world. The movie does not show the development of the relationship at all. It does not speak of the pain that both Edna and Robert have to endure. In the novel, Robert loves Edna deeply, but he tries to deny his love because she is a married woman. It is what drives him to Mexico and back again. He says, "I couldn't help loving you if you were ten times his wife; but so long as I . . . kept away I could help telling you so." (Chopin 142) The movie does not address the pain and indecision that paralyze Robert and Edna. It treats their relationship as a lack of self-control based on lust and the heat of the moment.
The movie leaves out a crucial part of the novel that is a peak of Edna's independence. This peak is Edna's dinner party, at which she invites ten friends to a celebratory final dinner in Leonce's house before she moves into the "pigeon house." The party is Edna's last grand gesture. It is "visual, social proof, accompanied by approval and...